18 ideas to build loyalty by thanking your customers
We’ve all been taught to be polite and to say thank you when people go out of their way on our behalf. So why is it that many companies have not transferred this desirable characteristic to their marketing plans?
Think about it. Your customers have trusted you. They’ve chosen to spend their hard-earned money with you—even in times of economic hardship. Have you taken the time and energy to thank them? Really thank them? For a thank-you to truly resonate, consider the following:
• It must be relevant and specific. The more generic your “thanks,” the less genuine it will appear.
• It must be noticeable—not a mere “thanks” under your breath, but a remarkable interruption in your customer’s day.
• It must be sincere. If your marketing materials can’t appear honest or your customer service reps (CSRs) can’t seem genuine, it’s a wasted effort.
To address these important points, a thank-you program should become an integral part of your marketing plans on both the customer acquisition and retention sides of the business.
Say Thanks to New Customers
When prospects buy from you, they essentially are saying, “I’m going to take a risk and spend money with your organization, even though I’m purchasing a product sight unseen. I trust that you will deliver on the promise.” Direct marketers should be very grateful for this trust. Without it, we wouldn’t be in business! New customers should be recognized and genuinely thanked. This practice will breed good will. Here are a few ideas on how to say thank you for that first order:
1) Upon ordering. The first contact you have with customers should be a pleasant experience for them. If customers are identified as new by a source code, tag them to get a special thank-you. Recognize them as first-time customers, making the transaction meaningful and relevant.
2) Thanks in a box. There is no better time to say thanks than in the box a product is shipped in. A simple note is not expensive, but be sure it is one of the first things a new customer sees. Be creative with your format; it can be on a note card, a thank-you card enclosed in a special envelope, a bounce-back catalog with a wrap around it or a strategically placed sticker.
3) Thank-you mailing. First time customers immediately are placed into the mail stream but should be tagged for a special message. Whether it’s a catalog or solo mailing, create a version that says, “We appreciate you as a first-time customer.” The more relevant the better. For instance, if you are a gift cataloger, why not say, “Thanks for trusting us with your important gift!” This does not have to be an expensive versioning. A simple black plate change will work as long as it’s in a prominent location.
4) A special offer. This will work as long as it definitely appears as special. An inconsequential offer may seem like a bribe. While this is a proven technique that improves retention, test different offers to see what resonates with first-time buyers.
5) Personalized follow-up phone call or note. If the amount spent reaches a pre-determined threshold, special efforts need to be made to express your gratitude. A big risk deserves a big thanks. This is a technique that can— and should—be used for your best customers, as well.
Thank Customers ... Again and Again
While thanking new customers is important, never take existing customers for granted. Create a thank-you program that changes and evolves, so the method in which you say thanks does not become redundant or stale over time. A few suggestions include:
6) Recognize customers’ birthdays. HoneyBaked Ham learned the value of this when it sent a birthday card and a certificate for a free cake to its best customers. Not only did customers appreciate it (this was expressed through letters and phone calls), recipients who redeemed their certificates spent enough additional dollars to pay for the mailing!
7) An intelligent thank-you. With all of the technology available to direct marketers, it amazes me that I’m not recognized as a loyal customer when placing an order. A simple, “I see you are one of our best customers. We really appreciate that you continue to choose us. …” tells me I’m appreciated. Use your database intelligence!
8) Preferred customer mailing. Many direct marketers use this technique, but because of its popularity, this idea may not always seem sincere. Don’t call it a “preferred” mailing and then send it to customers who have only bought from you once or twice. They won’t believe you in the future. One B-to-B marketer created a preferred customer postcard that included a great offer and asked customers to use a secret code when ordering. The more exclusive sounding, the better.
9) Personal notes. For B-to-B direct marketers, the value of an assigned customer service representative can be quite powerful. If this is your model, ask your reps to send special relationship-building notes (hand-written) throughout the year. Of course, the more a representative knows about a customer, the more relevant the message can be.
10) Holiday greeting. We personally send holiday greeting cards to our best friends—why not our best customers? The more personal, the better. A quick hand-written note signed by either the president or another relevant representative will tell customers you have gone out of your way.
11) Free upgrades. Why not? If a loyal customer spent a good deal of money with you, why not offer a free upgrade? This doesn’t have to be of great value, just unexpected.
12) Excess inventory gift. The unexpected always is appreciated. If you have inventory that is sitting around, send it out with orders. Send a note of thanks along with the gift, telling customers you would rather give it to special customers than liquidate it. They may not need the gift, but they certainly can give it to someone who might.
13) Frequent buyer programs. Create thresholds that are quickly achievable and uncomplicated. The reward can be a combination of many things depending on your brand and merchandise concept. However, the onus should be on you to calculate spending, making it easy on customers. Remind them of their progress and make the rewards easy to redeem.
14) Tiered thank-you offers. Create a program that offers customers special gifts or certificates when they purchase a certain amount. For instance, when they spend $200, they receive a gift—but an even better gift when they spend $500.
15) Special access to events. With a multi-channel company, there are many opportunities to create special events—especially at a local store. Invite customers to attend these special events and perhaps receive a special gift.
16) Special Web access. Create relevant content or services available to special customers only. This might include value-added information, gift-reminder notices, a special chat room … anything that is applicable or helpful to your customers.
17) The power of e-mails. While it’s important to send a confirmation e-mail to customers once they’ve placed an order, also try creating a special HTML e-mail that clearly says they’re appreciated. Not only thank customers, but be relevant.
For instance, if a gift was sent, thank them for trusting you. If they are new customers, thank and welcome them. Another use of e-mails is to remind customers of an impending deadline. The deadline might include an offer that is about to expire or a reminder of the last day to order for holiday delivery.
The Most Important Way to Say, “Thanks. You’re Important to Us”
18) Create an easy environment in which to purchase and return products. Don’t make them difficult processes. Let buyers clearly know how they can reach you with questions or concerns. If customers have to work at getting questions answered, you essentially have told them they’re not important.
Of course all of these ideas should be tested to see if they do indeed increase customer retention for your company. Many of these suggestions are simple strategies and don’t have to cost much money. Who doesn’t want to be recognized—especially if they’ve already chosen to be loyal?
Sometimes operational issues get in the way of recognizing customers. But this should not drive your decision on how to say thank you. Figure it out. Your customers deserve it!
Lois Boyle is president of J. Schmid & Associates, Shawnee Mission, KS. You can reach her by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.