Customer Appreciation Programs: 10 Proven Methods for Boosting Results

Posted by David Kindervater on Oct 31, 2019

Customer appreciation programs come in many forms. From referrals and rewards to surprise gifts and social media recognition, these incentive-laden plans lead to satisfied customers who will support your business for the long haul.

Whatever customer appreciation programs you choose to use, here are 10 proven methods for boosting your success.

1. Encourage Your Customers to Refer Their People

customer referralsAccording to a Neilsen study, over 90% of customers trust recommendations from people they know. You can boost your customer appreciation programs by rewarding your customers for referring new patrons. They may already speak highly of your business if you have a great product or service and you offer outstanding customer service. After all, word-of-mouth marketing makes up about 20-50% of most buying decisions. But you can take that statistic and improve upon it.

Give your customers an enticing incentive to send new business your way. How you reward them is up to you, but make it worth their while. (That means give them something they'd like.) Additionally, reward both the referrer and the referee. If you ask one of your customers to do something for you, let them know that not only will they receive a reward, the person they're referring will, too.

Airbnb is one of many businesses that uses a referral program (aka "The Program") to benefit everyone involved. The online lodging broker allows its members to earn $20 “Travel Credits” toward future bookings by referring their friends as new Airbnb users. In turn, when that person becomes a new customer, they're issued a credit toward their first booking.

A referral program is a proven method of incentivizing your current customers—and attracting new ones. Devise a plan that makes sense for your business and watch your customer retention rates and your sales grow.

2. Reward Your Customers for Making Purchases

When it comes to customer appreciation programs, a loyalty program is similar to a referral program because you're rewarding your customers. But they're usually the only ones receiving the rewards. Typically, a loyalty/rewards program compensates your customers for making purchases. The more purchases they make, the greater the reward. Research shows it works. Around 70% of consumers are more likely to do business with you—and keep doing so—if you offer a strong rewards program.

Designer Shoe Warehouse is one of many brands that rewards its customers for their patronage. The footwear retailer has a VIP Rewards Program that allows its patrons to earn points for every dollar spent on eligible purchases. What sets them apart from other businesses is that they also offer perks and exclusives. For example, you can get free shipping anytime you order online, plus:

  • Free promos when they're available.
  • $5 off any purchase on your birthday (as well as two of your friends on their birthdays).
  • 2x and 3x points days to boost your rewards.

Follow a similar plan that offers a variety of rewards at different times and you'll boost your customer appreciation programs.

3. Award Your Customers for Being Social 

customer appreciation programsNot every one of your customers uses social media, but it's safe to say a lot of them do. There are almost three-billion people using social networks these days and that number continues to rise each year. It's obvious that your current followers are interested in what your brand is up to. Otherwise, they wouldn't be following you. Reward those people and boost your customer appreciation programs by providing access to exclusive specials.

Also, allow your customers to earn rewards based on their social actions. When you involve social actions like following, liking, commenting, and sharing, you'll increase your brand’s shareability.

While you're at it, you can use networks like Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram to answer questions and provide customer service support. In this instance, you're meeting your customers where they are and giving them product support and answers to their questions on their terms. Just be sure to do so in a timely manner. Many businesses are notoriously bad at this, averaging a disappointing response time of three hours on Facebook and around seven hours on Twitter. Squash those numbers and you'll quickly set yourself apart from your competitors.

If you want to boost your customer appreciation programs, make a commitment to your social media efforts.

4. Tell Everyone About Your Best Customers

You can boost your customer appreciation programs by "calling out" a patron on social (or on your brand's website, in email campaigns, or in any other form of marketing). By doing this, you're telling the world how much you appreciate their business. This makes your customers feel valued and proud to do business with you, but it also serves as a blueprint for other patrons. They'll interpret it as: "If I follow a similar pattern of behavior as a customer, I may receive the same VIP treatment."

Customer Appreciation Programs: 'Please Share Your Experience'

Consider incorporating user-generated content, too. Sometimes, customer appreciations programs are centered around customer involvement. Ask them to share their experience with your product or service by posting a photo and/or story to their social media accounts.

The UPS Store asked their small business followers to share their day-to-day activities with their services using the hashtag #TheUPSStoreCustomer. What resulted was a flurry of activity from small business customers who were happy to share their behind-the-scenes actions. It gave their followers a look at what really goes on when they had to ship orders or print marketing materials. 

Use Customer Testimonials

To highlight your best customers, consider their testimonials. When a customer praises your brand or features one of your products in a social post, be sure to engage with them. At the very least, give their post a like. It would be far better, however, to repost their content or comment on it with some words of appreciation. You can do something similar with a letter you receive in the mail. Take a photo of it (covering up any personal information like a phone number or physical mailing address) and post it along with a message of thanks.

5. Send a Birthday, Holiday, or Anniversary Gift

customer appreciation programsBirthdays, holidays, and anniversaries are great times to acknowledge your customers and tell them how much they mean to you. It shows you know a thing or two about your customers and that you want to honor them at a special time.

Be sure to put some serious thought into the gift, though. For example, if you own a health and fitness business, it's probably not a great idea to send a box of Christmas cookies during the holidays. Maybe you have a healthy alternative (like protein bars) or an item that's more suited to your target market, like a shaker cup featuring your brand's logo.

If you settle for a standard item that lacks in originality and care, you're just going through the motions. Yes, it's a nice gesture, but it comes across as though you don't really care—that you're merely fulfilling an obligation.

Also, don't be afraid to celebrate an out-of-the-ordinary event. Just about every day of the year is some kind of special, celebrated day. For example, U.S. Congress declared the first full week of October as Customer Service Week. Why not take that week to celebrate by sending your customers something special. You could also celebrate according to your particular industry. For instance, if you have a franchise of retail golf shops, you could celebrate with your customers on National Golf Day (May 1).

6. Surprise and Delight Your Customers

Have you ever received something in the mail when you were least expecting it? Sometimes those are the most memorable and appreciated gifts. There's no rule of business that says you have to wait for birthdays, holidays, or anniversaries to send your customers something special. Send them a token of your appreciation at any time of the year—for no reason other than to say "Thanks for being our customer."

This type of action creates a sense of appreciation and loyalty. After all, you're giving them something for nothing.

TD Bank is known as America's most convenient bank because of extended hours at their 1,300 locations. As a way to thank their long-established customers, they created a special Automated Thanking Machine. First, they took notes (literally) and paid attention to their clients' interests. Then they surprised them with personalized thank you gifts.

  • They gave a single mom tickets to Disneyland.
  • They sent roses to an elderly customer.
  • For a mother that wanted to visit her sick daughter, they gave her airline tickets.
TD Bank documented each case and shared them to their social media accounts. They served as examples that they don't just care about business, they truly care about their customers as people.

Here's another example, only this time, the recipients weren't even customers yet.

Organic beverage company Suja Juice used social listening as part of their #ItsTheJuice marketing campaign to surprise random consumers. They searched social media for hashtags like #sick, #mondayblues, #momprobs, etc. to find people who were having upsetting or just plain bad days. Then they contacted them, offering a temporary remedy of free juice delivery. Suja Juice reached out to about 400 people and shipped roughly 6,000 bottles of product during the campaign.

Pay attention to your customers. Listen to them. Care about them. When you take the time to surprise and delight them, you'll boost your customer appreciation programs and win their loyalty.

7. Give Your Customers a Free Service Upgrade

customer service upgradeIf you have a customer that's been loyal for an extended period of time, reward them with an upgrade in your product or service. Let's look at a couple of free upgrade examples.

The airline industry started this practice several decades ago with their frequent flyer programs. It's a great way to delight customers, build loyalty, and create brand advocates. Delta Airlines' SkyMiles program offers some of their VIP flyers unlimited complimentary upgrades. Plus, those who travel extensively may receive free upgrades the day before their scheduled departure.

Xfinity has been known to upgrade their customers to a higher level of service without warning. They simply send their customers a note saying: "We increased the download speed included with your Xfinity Internet plan." It's short and sweet, and it doesn't necessarily offer a reason for the upgrade, but it elicits the same response from customers: "Cool! Thanks!"

Upgrade your customers (with or without warning) and more than likely you'll be very pleased by the results. 

8. Host an Event or Party and Invite Your Customers

If you have a physical location, use your in-store marketing skills to host an event or party to celebrate your customers. When it comes to customer appreciation programs, what could be better than meeting your patrons in person and thanking them face-to-face? It also gives you a chance to get to know your customers and find out how you can serve them better. Here's an example to get you started.

Make the Event Exclusive

You can make your customers feel extra special by hosting an after-hours, invitation-only event. Keep your store running as normal so they can shop, but give them an added discount or better yet, give them a special gift and offer discounts throughout the store. Also, provide drinks and snacks, entertainment, and a meet-and-greet so you can get to know them.

Get Creative with the Experience

You could incorporate a product launch party, book signing, holiday event, educational event, or something experiential like a yoga workout, meditation, or dinner party. It really depends on your business niche, but use your imagination and always think of what your customer would like to experience.

9. Always Be Great at Customer Service

customer experienceAll of the aforementioned methods are examples of customer appreciation programs, but they're also examples of great customer service. When you pay attention to your customers and really listen to what they're saying, you can better serve their needs. The better you are at customer service, the more success your business will enjoy.

Dan Gingiss is a customer experience expert and keynote speaker who has worked with Fortune 300 companies like McDonald's, Humana, and Discover Card. He was also a featured speaker at INBOUND 2019.

Dan promotes a framework he calls WISER. This stands for Witty, Immersive, Shareable, Extraordinary, and Responsive—and it's how you should present your brand to the world.

  • Witty. Find some extra words—different words—to be a little bit more memorable. Show off your brand's true personality.
  • Immersive. You want your clients or consumers to really feel your brand. Create a consistent experience for them throughout their journey. Look for ways to make your customers/clients think they can't live without your product.
  • Shareable. Be intentional about certain parts of the customer journey where you want people to talk about it.
  • Extraordinary. Take something ordinary and make it a little bit better. You don't have to go completely nuts, but avoid doing what everyone else is doing. Be different.
  • Responsive. Be there to respond when people are happy (or upset) with you and when they're commenting on your content.

The WISER method is designed to get more people talking positively about your company. Plus, it helps plug the "leaky bucket" of current customers who are walking out your back door. Dan said:

"You don't have to be all five of these, but the more of them you are, the better you'll be at creating shareable experiences. You've got to stop focusing just on sales and new customers and start focusing on your existing customers that are already paying you money. They're already loyal to you. Get them to be fans of your brand so they talk about your business to their colleagues and other business people. Those recommendations are so much more powerful than trying to put another Facebook ad in front of a prospect."

If you follow this method, you'll plug your leaky bucket—and make more money.

10. Send a Handwritten Note of Thanks

Remember when email was a new and exciting adventure? OK, maybe you don't. But there was a time when the sweet sound of "You've got mail" made some people very happy. Now you're just trying to opt out of as many lists as you can so you don't waste half your day deleting electronic advertisements.

But email isn't entirely bad. In fact, it's pretty effective from a marketer's perspective. Almost 100% of consumers check their email daily. And about 60% say marketing emails impact their buying decisions. But do you know what's even more effective? Direct mail advertising.  And if you launch a direct mail campaign with some handwritten content, you'll show your customers how much they mean to you.

A handwritten note of thanks is a great way to boost your customer appreciation programs. In fact, it's also a proven retention marketing strategy. Contact us to see how you can start using digitally handwritten notes as part of your business strategy today. Whether you're producing a full-on direct mail marketing campaign or just sending business thank you cards to your customers, handwritten notes are more personal and enjoyable than regular old typed messages.

Topics: Customer Loyalty, Customer Experience, retention marketing, customer service as a marketing tool, customer retention, thanking your customers