Just Say NO to Gift Cards

Another example of why gift cards aren’t the best choice for saying thank you to customers, rewarding loyalty and building stronger relationships showed up in my world the other day. I belong to an entrepreneurial women’s group and as a gesture of appreciation, the founder sent out egift cards to all the members. Since they would arrive via email and could be overlooked as spam, she posted a “be on the lookout for this email” message on our private Facebook page.

While several people responded with excitement and gratitude, one person posted this:

FBpost-giftcard

It says: “Perhaps I am splitting hairs, but I don’t want something that was probably paid for with my monthly dues to be a gift. Technically it would be called a rebate. Unless the $5 cards were a measure of goodwill directly from the Starbucks corporation.”

Ouch! Now we can discuss whether or not the poster is justified or exhibiting bad manners, but the truth of the matter is, she’s not the only one who feels that way about receiving a gift card. If you’re using gift cards to say thank you to clients, members or referral sources, they may very well feel the same way. And if they do, it could affect their decision to send you more business.

Even though you may be spending the same $5 or $10 or $50, giving gift cards is very different from giving actual gifts. Gift cards have a monetary value attached and displayed right on them, (why not just hand the recipient a $10 bill?). A box of cookies, a plant or a beach ball do not and are therefore perceived as a much more authentic gift and genuine expression of appreciation.

In our society, we use money as a form of payment for market transactions. We pay money to buy goods and services. We can get away with giving money as a gift for weddings or children’s birthdays because what we’re really giving there is an investment in their futures. Paying out cash, or giving a gift card, which is the equivalent of cash, is not an acceptable form of gift for business associates.

In addition to now being viewed as tactless, giving a gift card is also not very memorable. It’s certainly not noteworthy. Who gets so excited about a gift card that she displays it on her desk or shows it to her colleagues? Why would you want to give something forgettable when you could easily share something more fun and remarkable? Often for the same price or less!

Next time you’re faced with the decision of how to give thanks, think of the most creative way you can do it, not the least.

Need help coming up with remarkable, impressive and still budget-friendly thank yous? I’ve got plenty of ideas. Call me and let’s brainstorm.

PS: Just for the record, I am not looking a gift horse in the mouth and do appreciate the meaning behind the giving of the above mentioned gift card. However, I felt compelled to take this opportunity to discuss the consequences of making that giving choice.

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Humans are Hardwired to Connect

An email came through my inbox today from a colleague whose company is hiring. It said <Company> is looking for a passionate online marketer who has experience in web content creation, website development and social media. This person will help create and deliver a total marketing solution – combining web, social media, and SEO strategies – in a personalized client experience. (The bold is my addition.)

See, now this is the issue. An online-only marketing plan is NOT a total marketing solution and the companies and business people who believe it is may make some money in the short run, but they’re not going to build the relationships necessary to be around for the long term. You must connect with your target market and customers on a more human level. There’s no way around this requirement. It’s why companies such as Zappos, with missions of “providing the best customer service possible” have human customer service reps you can call instead of only allowing you to order online. It’s why they have such rabid fans.

Humans are wired to connect kinesthetically and interpersonally. That hasn’t changed in the past 20, 300 or 5,000 years. Yes, you can and should have online and electronic components to your marketing and sales plans. And for maximum success, you must incorporate traditional offline strategies as well. Pick up the phone. Send a note through snail mail. Have a package delivered.
Why do offline strategies seem so challenging? Is it because actually speaking to someone on the phone creates the opportunity to say something stupid or awkward or wrong? Is it because you are vulnerable to rejection? Sure, having someone say no to you directly might be harder to hear than not getting an email response back, but the upside is so much greater. You could engage in a dialogue – you know, where you ask questions, listen to the answers and offer relevant information based on those responses in real time!

Some offer the excuse that offline strategies are more expensive, given that sending something in physical form means you have to pay postage or shipping fees. Perhaps. What’s the value of the relationship to you? Is it a cost or an investment? Would you rather enjoy a delicious meal prepared by an incredible chef or just see a picture online? When you are tired of using electronic marketing as a shield, when you are ready (and hungry), you realize the importance of making a tangible connection to your clients.

The Art of Persuasion

Book Cover, The Art Of PersuasionNo one had to persuade me to read this book. I’ve been a fan of Bob Burg’s since I met him at the West Palm Beach Chamber of Commerce about 14 years ago. I’d just moved there and he was one of the first contacts I made. Good fortune, I know!

Bob is the consummate storyteller and he makes good use of that ability in sharing anecdotes to illustrate his points. You want to know how to deal with difficult people? Early in the book, he gives one of my favorite techniques for winning over someone who you may initially feel is an adversary. He calls it “Handing Over Power,” in which you disarm someone by agreeing with his point, and then asking him to help you. Then you employ the key words, “if you can’t do it, I’ll definitely understand.” I have remembered Bob’s advice and used that phrase to great benefit on numerous occasions.

You want to know how to best phrase questions to get solutions that work for you? Chapter 4 is titled “The Art of Making People Feel Important,” something we talk about at Zen Rabbit all the time. Bob includes several examples here of how to negotiate, decline a ridiculous offer, ask for help and respectfully disagree. His recommendations allow everyone involved to retain dignity and find a workable solution.

Long-Term Persuasion Through Personalized, Handwritten Thank You Notes is one of the subtitles of this chapter. He applauds this tactic as a simple, powerful secret to long-term success and makes it clear he’s talking actual written on paper, sent through the mail notes, not emails. Hmmm, I may have heard this advice somewhere before. Sounds like all the successful kids are in agreement on this idea!

You want to know how to set yourself apart from all your rude fellow citizens? This book is chock full of ideas and examples, including letters and conversational responses you could swipe and deploy. Study what Bob teaches and you’ll be well-positioned in business as well as other areas of your life.

Some Days it’s More Difficult to be Grateful

Truth be told, some days it takes more effort to find things in your life for which to be grateful. Everyone’s on his or her own path and some people are more “enlightened” than others, but even those with a high level of awareness have their challenges. So what’s a person to do during difficult times?

Change how you’re looking at circumstances. Wayne Dyer said when you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change. The circumstances that surround you right now do not define who you are. If a client is upset with the service you’ve provided, it doesn’t mean you are a terrible, incompetent person or your business sucks at customer service. Maybe that client isn’t your ideal and is giving you the opportunity to see that and initiative to move on to find other people who are. Aha! You can be grateful for the insight.

Not to get all preachy and just to bring some perspective, I was half paying attention to the recent Carnival cruise line story and how atrocious the conditions on board the ship were after it was disabled. My friend Dawn, who does a lot of work with African refugees, posted a comment on Facebook about how much of the world lives in similar surroundings ALL THE TIME. Yes, I’m sure it was mighty unpleasant and it’s a shame their vacations were ruined. But it was for a few days. You will get off the ship and go home to all your modern conveniences. First world problem!

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying anyone should feel guilty or bad about having everything we have in the developed countries! Let’s get back to the topic at hand, which is finding gratitude even on the more difficult days. Can you be grateful for running water, a warm blanket, a hot cup of tea? Focus on feeling good about whatever it is you DO have. Say a quick prayer of thanks for even the smallest, potentially overlooked thing.

That complaining client highlights how wonderful some of your other clients are. Send those wonderful people a heartfelt note or gift to let them know how much you appreciate them. Consider the deal that fell through, the one you’ve been working on for months and really, really wanted, to be a blessing in disguise. Something better is on its way.

I was reminded of such a situation the other day when I saw a For Sale sign in the complex where I’d made an offer for my first townhouse. I was so disappointed when they rejected it and frustrated for days. But a few months later, my husband and I found one that was nicer and a much better value. Thank goodness those first sellers rejected the offer because now, years later, I see how that place would never have worked as well as where we ended up.

Yes, some days the things you have to be grateful for appear to be less significant than other days. Be grateful for them anyway.

The Humanization of Business

Years ago, back in the days of our grandparents, most people conducted business with people they knew. Business was local and you would recognize your vendors and suppliers if you ran into them at the grocery store. Some deals were done with contracts, but all agreements involved a handshake. There was a human element to every transaction.

Today, we can pretty much run our business and personal lives without having to interact with other humans. Everything can be bought and sold online, Writing emailconversations conducted via email or text. We can, however that doesn’t mean we should. For all the technology that’s been developed, humans are still wired to need physical contact and interaction with other humans. Perhaps ironically, the ability and expectation to be constantly available via electronic communications has actually created a greater importance for physically reaching out and touching someone.

How many of your clients do you know personally? Depending on your industry, you may have met with every one of them at some point in the relationship. Or you may have never even had a one-on-one conversation with them. The more of your business is conducted electronically, the higher the risk you have of customers leaving without saying goodbye. Why? Because it’s easy to walk away from someone you don’t really know, a business with which you have no real connection, even if they are providing you with a valuable service.

It’s much more difficult to change suppliers when you’ve had tangible interactions with someone. And this is why it’s so critical to take communications with your customers beyond the Internet! It’s especially important when you can’t physically meet face to face to send notes, gifts, tangible representations, because those things act as your surrogate. They are material stand-ins that aren’t likely to be ignored and can’t be deleted with a keystroke.

When you send a tangible gift, you’re telling your customer that he is important to you. He’s not getting the message that he’s just one of 1,000 people on a mass email list. He’s getting the message that he’s special, even if, in reality, you sent the same thing to 1,000 other people too.

Just last week, I received a bookmark and a note in the mail from a colleague. Her note Heart Bookmarksaid, “I am grateful to be connected to you,” and included a short list of her favorite books. Wow, very cool and unexpected (which is part of what makes it so cool!). Now I know I’m not the only person to whom she sent that gift, but it doesn’t matter. What matters is that she cares enough about our relationship to reach out and touch me in that way. We’ve never met in person, but she just strengthened our bond.

You can bury your head in the sand and say it’s not true, or choose to believe you and your customers are more evolved than to need such physical connections. The bottom line is humans are still wired to desire tactile interaction with other humans. Recognize and provide it to your customers and you will see the benefits in the success of your business.

Getting Customers, Keeping Customers

One of the top challenges for many business people these days is getting new customers. Finding new clients takes a significant amount Finding new customers takes time and energyof time and energy, not to mention monetary investment. And to keep that pipeline full, you’ve got to be consistent and creative in your efforts.

There’s certainly no shortage of information out there on how to attract new business. Some sources make it sound like getting more new customers is as easy as turning on the water faucet. That’s not exactly been my experience. Has it been yours?

You might be interested to know there is an easier and more cost-effective way to build your business. It’s called customer appreciation. Focusing on keeping the customers you have is a far better investment of your limited resources.

How does it work? Good question.

When you put your efforts into building stronger relationships with current clients, they stay with you longer, they buy more from you, and they recommend you to more of their friends and colleagues. Those factors stronger relationships with clients means more businessequal more money in your pocket.

Think about it. Someone who is already a customer is already sold on your product or service. She already likes and trusts you. He already knows you’re reputable and deliver value. You’ve got an established relationship going, so it’s a good bet she will take or return your call. Someone you’ve never done business with before is going to be harder to reach and more skeptical of your pitch when you do get through. The sales cycle is naturally going to be longer because you have to lay the groundwork and establish the rapport.

What happens when you’re the consumer? How do you make your buying decisions? You probably turn to friends or colleagues who’ve bought a similar product or service for recommendations and advice. You likely search online for reviews and comparisons. Your prospective clients are no different. They want to make sure they’re making the right decision and will take their time to do so.

Just yesterday I needed to replenish a product I use in the business frequently. There’s no reason for me to spend time going online to search for another vendor and seeing if I can find a better price. I’m comfortable with the supplier I’ve been using recently. Even if I could save a few cents somewhere else, I’d rather buy from a reliable place where I know the guy and already have an account. In fact, I used to buy this product from someone else, but she was hard to get hold of and wasn’t very good at returning calls or emails, which made it difficult to order. She was probably always out chasing after new customers instead of taking care of the ones she currently had.

No matter what your business, look to your existing customers as one of your best sources of new revenue. The longer they stay with you, the more they spend and the higher the likelihood they will refer you new business. Sounds like a good investment to me.

Saying Thank You to Clients on Valentine’s Day

ValenValentine's is a great time to show appreciation for customerstine’s Day is right around the corner. Admittedly, I’m not a fan of what I consider a “Hallmark Holiday.” However, I do see this holiday as an opportunity for savvy business people to tell customers how much they love doing business with them. Reaching out on Valentine’s Day and saying thank you to clients works for a few reasons.

    1. Hardly anyone else is doing it. I’m a strong advocate for going against the grain when it comes to marketing. If everyone is sending client appreciation gifts at Christmastime, then I recommend NOT doing that. The whole point of marketing is to stand out so you can catch your audience’s attention and get them to take action. So, first you have to do something noteworthy and showing up at their doorstep with Valentine’s cards or gifts is memorable.

 

    1. You can have fun with this. It’s Valentine’s Day, no reason to be all serious or traditional. Remember we’re talking clients here, not romance, so use some humor. If you’re feeling creative, you can take a stab at writing some poetry. I actually stopped as I was writing this post and made my attempt at this genre. Um, it’s not exactly Emily DickinsonWrite a poem to clients for Valentine's Day or Maya Angelou, but if you are one of my clients, you may have the good fortune to see it when you open your mail in a few days. I’ll share this; it starts out “Valentine’s Day is here…”

      You can certainly go with candy, nothing wrong with chocolate M&Ms, but chocolate kisses might send the wrong message. Go with a message like, “Valentine’s Day means chocolate. It’s also a great time for us to share with you how much we value you as a client.” Or how about a book – “I loved this book and thought you would too. Letting you know how much we appreciate your business.”

 

  1. Some people don’t have a Valentine. Okay, I said it’s not a time to be serious, but in reality this day can be hard for people who don’t have someone significant in their lives right now. Some of your customers may not get any kind of acknowledgement of their specialness today and that could leave them feeling lonely. You can remedy that by letting them know they are important to you and they will remember you kindly for doing so.

This Valentine’s Day, make the most of the chance to strengthen relationships with your clients. Let me know what creative ideas you come up with, or what you are lucky enough to receive from one of your vendors. Share in the comments section here or on our Facebook page.