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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Perseverance and a Sense of Urgency

It’s another beautiful autumn day in the Washington, DC area – blue skies and crisp temperatures. As I thought about topics for today’s post, my mind returned to a day similar to this one back in 2006. I had recently been introduced to the person who would become my first contract baker, the first person to whom I would entrust with the job of producing The Gratitude Cookie for me.

At the time, I was living in south Florida and after exhausting options for finding a baker anywhere in that state, a mutual contact recommended I connect with Harvey Christie, legendarily known by all in Virginia and West Virginia as Chef Harv.

It was on a day like today that he met me at BWI airport and we headed to Baltimore to meet up with Irwin, a broker from whom I would end up buying the cookie machine that would automate the process of making the cookies. Chef Harv and I hit it off right away. I felt really comfortable working with him and optimistic about growth potential.

The cookie machine was manufactured in Germany, so we had to wait weeks for its delivery. Once it arrived, the die that shaped the cookies wasn’t exactly right. So we had to wait longer to have that corrected. I kept pushing Irwin to call the German company and get them to expedite matters; it was getting closer and closer to the busy holiday season. Irwin was an elderly gentleman and he basically suggested I chill out and not get so worked up about this, else I die young.

Chef Harv and the unexpected
I’ve always had a strong sense of urgency, so pushing Irwin to get that cookie die delivered didn’t seem out of character or particularly prescient. When it finally arrived, I went back up to West Virginia and Chef Harv, his crew and I figured out how to run this machine (it did not come with a detailed instruction manual).

We hadn’t actually signed a contract yet when he ran the first “real” batch of 5,000 cookies the week of Thanksgiving. (And thinking about this point now, I’m reminded of how I clearly did not learn my lesson on this topic, but that is another blog post.)

And then on the morning of December 1st, Chef Harv was killed in a car accident. It still brings tears to my eyes to think about how even though I’d known him only a few months, I felt that I’d lost an amazing friend. The fear over what would happen to my business came second.

To the credit of Chef Harv’s team, they pulled off the incredible feat of carrying on, fulfilling all of Zen Rabbit’s holiday orders that season. My clients had no idea what was going on behind the scenes as all their thank you and holiday gifts for customers were shipped and delivered on time.

Postscript
In the end, Chef Harv’s wife decided to continue the business and we did end up signing a contract. I’ve since moved on to a much better baking partner arrangement, however I’ll always be grateful for this overall experience because of the lessons it taught. For all the business owners reading this, keep on, keep the faith. At some point or another, we all face challenges that seem insurmountable. Prove to yourself and everyone that you DO want and deserve success. And eventually it starts to come to you.

Pop-By Gifts for Realtors & Other Business Professionals

While developing a special gratitude program to help real estate agents say thank you to their clients, I learned that the most successful agents use pop-by gifts to strengthen relationships. These are little “thinking of how much I appreciate you” or “reminding you I still exist” kinds of gifts, usually tied into the month or season. So for example, an ice cream scoopIce Cream Scoop, thermal bag for keeping foods cool or some sunscreen in the summer. Or a snow scraper, umbrella or a pair of gloves in the winter. The gifts are paired with a cute gift note that ties into the theme, such as “don’t get burned by working with someone who’s less than professional” to go with the sunscreen.

Such appealing reminders keep you top of mind and generate referral business. Realtors are certainly not the only professionals who need to consistently stay in touch with past and current clients. This pop-by gift idea is awesome for almost any business, including those in financial services, internet marketing, and sales training. You don’t have to spend a lot of money to implement regular appreciation marketing, nor do you need to drop off the gifts in person. And think about how much of an impact a small, unexpected thank you gift would have on a customer’s day.

It’s back to school season. Seeing all the sale flyers in the Sunday paper this weekend, one idea I came up with is to send mini dry-erase boards with the note “I appreciate working with you” written on it in dry erase crayon. Clients will get a kick out of the sentiment and creative delivery and then can reuse the board around their office.

You can tie your gift idea into a time or event in your industry, such as a tax file folder sent out in January from accounting professionals, or use a more general concept like sharing a box of note cards in November so your recipients will have them to use for holiday gift thank yous.

I love the creativity involved here and while coming up with memorable client gift ideas and messages is fun for me, not everyone has an easy time with this task. If it’s not easy or fun for you, don’t do it! Get in touch with me and let’s put together a customized done-for-you program. Saying thank you and consistently staying in touch with your customers is imperative to your success. Why are you waiting?

Holiday Gift Ideas for Clients

Many business people traditionally send holiday gifts as their way of showing appreciation for clients, customers, partners, etc. For those who like the idea of concierge service, gourmet food treats and making a great impression, this video offers some nice gift ideas. Look for the special offer at the end!

Some Customers Are More Equal Than Others

A friend recommended I speak with his college roommate, Sam*, about how Sam’s company handles customer appreciation. By all outside perceptions, Sam’s company fell exactly within the demographics of an ideal Zen Rabbit client.

But after just a couple of minutes on the phone, it was clear that Sam is currently working in contraction and fear mode, you know, because of the economy. Futhermore, Sam didn’t seem to understand the lifetime value of his clients.

I pointed out to him that even though he said he has thousands of clients, he’s likely getting 80% of his business from 20% of them. He agreed. Then I mentioned that he should be focusing his efforts on keeping those 20% really happy. That’s where he got a little fuzzy. Even though he “knows that,” he still wants to keep ALL his clients happy and not play favorites.

Hey, I can understand wanting to keep everyone happy, but like in the classic book “Animal Farm,” some customers are more equal than others. That’s just how it is. Some clients are more valuable than others. And you would do well to focus on and cater more to those 20% who bring you the most valuable business.

Sam admitted that he does not have a plan for consistently showing appreciation for his best customers. But he doesn’t quite believe that it would be worth the effort. I got the impression that he prefers to “fly by the seat of his pants” in that regard. It depends on whether there is money left over for it at the end of the month. It’s an afterthought.

But what if Sam DID believe in the power of saying thank you to his clients? What could his business look like then? I know for sure that his company would be a lot stronger, that he wouldn’t be so afraid of what’s going on in “the economy.” That he wouldn’t have to compete on price. Too bad Sam’s not ready for that message yet. Are you?

*names have been changed to protect friendships.

Guilty For Not Giving

That’s what two-thirds of small business owners said they would feel if they didn’t show appreciation for their clients during the upcoming holiday season. BUT, the newly released survey taken by OPEN from American Express, also found only 59% of those business owners plan to take action and actually give client gifts. Not surprisingly, the survey revealed that the gift-giving people are “growth-minded, customer-focused and generous with staff.”

Alice Bredin, OPEN from American Express small business advisor, says “small business owners who are giving holiday gifts to clients seem to have mastered an important life lesson – you get back what you give.” That’s what I’ve been saying too! Thanks for the reinforcement, Alice. She went on to say that the smart business people are using client gift-giving as an effective marketing tool, on top of providing exceptional client service and developing relationships.What is the most popular choice for holiday giving? It’s cards and calendars! Ewww! How much more mundane can you get?“The stakes are high for making a lasting impression with your gift, especially when competing against larger companies with substantial marketing budgets,” Bredin says. If you really want to make an impression and stand out from everyone else, send one of the very distinctive Zen Rabbit gift packages you can find at the Zen Rabbit website.