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.

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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.

Strengthening Existing Client Relationships

Looking to improve your revenue this year and build a bigger business? That’s fantastic. How are you going to do it? What’s your plan? Most people answer that question with “get more customers.” And typically “get more customers” means do more marketing.

You could certainly spend time and money on chasing down new clients. OR, you could invest in the relationships you have with your current customers and strengthen them. When you do that, you’ll see existing clients buying more from you, maybe more frequently. You’ll also see an increase in referrals coming from those current clients. Business grows and you don’t have to work as hard. How great is that?

Here are a few ideas you can use to fortify those bonds.

Call them on their birthday. Everyone likes to receive happy birthday wishes on THEIR day. With the advent of Facebook, you’re probably getting a lot more than you used to, but most of them are not all that sincere. How many phone calls did you get on your birthday? Mine was last week, so I can tell you it was exactly seven – four family members, two friends and my financial adviser. Since only one was from someone with whom I do business, it stands out in my mind. I’m guessing he has a list he prints out every week and he sets aside 10 minutes a day to do those calls. Doesn’t take long and makes people happy.

Send a handwritten card or small gift on their birthday. Depending on the value of a client to you, you may choose to do something more than a phone call. One of Zen Rabbit’s clients sends a small package of Gratitude Cookies to each of his clients on their birthdays. Small gesture makes a big impression. If you are going to send a card, for gosh sakes, make it personal and don’t send something printed and signed by a computer!

Surprise them with random gifts of appreciation. These gifts don’t need to be expensive or extravagant. If you have products that are physical delivered to your customers, or you’re on site with them frequently, you can include surprises in what you send out or bring with you. One vendorGlass Teapot I know included a few lolly pops in each shipment. Otherwise you can do a special mailing. January is Hot Tea Month, so you could share your favorite tea. It’s also International Creativity Month, which begs for sharing a box of crayons or colored pens. Or how about sharing a delicious recipe or even an entire little cookbook of soup recipes for National Soup Month.

Print out or clip articles you see about your clients’ or their children’s achievements and mail them in an envelope with a note. Are you getting the drift here about delivering items in physical form via mail or other delivery service? It makes a difference! Electronic communications are fine and useful. But connecting on a more personal, tactile level is essential to human connectivity.

Going about business as usual, counting on clients to “know” you value their business is much like not changing the oil in your car when it’s time. The performance of your car isn’t affected right away. You may be able to drive for quite a while without issue. But sooner or later, that kind of neglect is going to cause major problems and will be pretty costly to fix.

Take care of your existing business connections, sincerely say thank you to customers for business, add the elements of fun and spontaneity to your client relationships and see how your business is rewarded with more.

What creative ideas have you used? Share here or come over to Zen Rabbit’s Facebook page to tell us about it.

The Anguish of Gift Giving (to family or customers)

Today is my husband’s birthday. Not only is it his birthday, it is the anniversary of our first date. Yes, I took him out for his birthday after he gave me some sad story at the gym that evening about how all his friends abandoned him because he wanted to work out first before going for dinner. On top of it, today marks our having been together for half of my life. Kind of weird.

Enough sappiness, onto my challenge. Am I the only one, or are there others out there, who have a hard time finding a good gift for the significant other? The thing is, if there’s something he wants, he pretty much goes and buys it himself. I hear my family thinks it’s hard to buy gifts for me too, although personally I think I am the easiest person in the world to buy for. And still we are committed to this practice of giving gifts.

He’s a runner, so for a while he got everything running related – shorts, socks, cold weather tights, etc. But there’s only so much gear you can fit in the dresser drawers. He’s always been an avid photographer, so for a long time I could always fall back on getting something photography related. Even then, purchases required explicit details on exactly which lens or filter or bag to order. But then he became a professional and any such purchases were no longer gifts, they were business expenses.

No worries. Who needs more stuff anyway? Experiences are better. I shelicopter rides as thank you to customers?pent time browsing sites like http://www.excitations.com for ideas. One year I wanted to give him a certificate for sailing lessons at a local marina. Nah, I don’t have time, he said. Another year some of my Twitter friends suggested a helicopter ride. How cool is that? Don’t you know I’ll get motion sickness, he admonished. I guess skydiving, where I get to push you out of the plane, ready or not, is out of the question too then. Arg!

This is the same kind of anguish many busy professionals go through in thinking about how to say thank you to clients. Finding customer gifts takes up too much mental energy and time, so it gets put on the back burner and rarely gets completed, which ends up costing them money in the long run. You don’t perform your own heart surgery or sew all your own clothes. Certainly allowing an expert to manage a client appreciation program is a better allocation of your resources than doing it yourself.  Ironically, it’s actually fun for me to find and send gestures of customer appreciation on behalf of my business clients. Maybe when you remove yourself from the thick of it, and take a step back, finding the right thing becomes easier.

PS: Any fantastic birthday gift suggestions welcome!

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.

Saying Thank You to Customers in September

September is a great time to say thank you to customers. Unlike in December and even November, you clients are not inundated with cards, gift baskets and goodies this month. That means your goodwill gesture will stand out, make a bigger impression and create more buzz.

There are plenty of special holidays or reasons to show appreciation and say thanks for business this month. September is Apple Month, Fall Hat Month, Honey Month, Self Improvement Month, Skin Care Awareness Month, Guide Dog Month, National Preparedness Month.

Teddy BearAlso in September:

  • Cheese Pizza Day – send a gift certificate for a local pizza place
  • Read a Book Day – share a copy of your favorite business or inspirational book
  • Teddy Bear Day – who doesn’t love a cute Teddy Bear?
  • Chocolate Milkshake Day – a gift card is probably the way to go here
  • Play Doh Day – send a mini jar of this childhood favorite. Who’s not going to play with it?!
  • Talk Like a Pirate Day – find a translation guide to send
  • Elephant Appreciation Day – write a note on a card with a picture of an elephant
  • Comic Book Day – get really creative and make your own
  • Pancake Day – pancake mix and a bottle of syrup
  • Chewing Gum Day – easy enough to mail or drop off a pack of gum
  • Most appropriately, September 27 is National Thank You Day.

Pick one of these fun holidays and use it as a reason to send your customers a note or gift. Remember, if you improve your customer retention rate by just 5%, you can expect to see an increase in profits of 25-100%. Seems like a worthwhile investment to me.

Need help coming up with creative gift ideas to reward loyal customers? Reach me at lori @ zenrabbit.com and let’s brainstorm.