Customer Appreciation Ideas

Break The Mold, Not The Bank!

Customer Loyalty? Customer Appreciation Ideas? Who Cares?


In this peyote-induced, heady international economy, why should companies give two flying factotums about customer appreciation ideas?

Especially when even the sale of a million units barely gets a bored “meh” and a condescending pat on the head from the biggest global players, and reaching bottomline sales targets require creative marketing techniques resembling a Cirque du Soleil contortionist’s abused spinal column.

Well, buckos, it’s because that’s the only way the smaller kids in the schoolyard have any chance in a Saharan sand-storm of competing with the Schmoogles and Apple-oids of today.

And, for the larger kids to compete for that one-billionth of the global population which hasn’t yet heard of them, because they were too busy stocking cured squirrel meat in their nuclear bomb shelter for the last fifteen years.

Today’s culture of rabidly reviewing everything from the last iPhone to the effects of Mrs. Torrance’s peach pie on little Danny basically means that making your clientele feel like they’re the only precious snowflakes in a titanic blizzard worthy of your undying love is what lets you distinguish yourself from the herd.

Even if they’re one among googolplexian others buying the exact same service from you. And, that’s where customer appreciation ideas come in.

Warmth Or Swag – Approaches To Customer Appreciation Ideas

Now, the idea that customer loyalty strongly affects the bottomline in the short and long run – in terms of returning business for fast-moving consumer goods, and referrals for slow-moving goods and long-term services – isn’t particularly earth-shattering or ground-breaking.

If you considered it so for even a nanosecond, maybe you should sit down for a moment, relax, and see what a shotgun tastes like for fun. In fact, I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if the concept of nurturing customer loyalty through bonus swag could be traced back to the builders of pyramids in Ancient Egypt, and beyond –

Free crocodile traps with the purchase of the deluxe Giza Supreme; Head of our eldest born if you’re dissatisfied with the service; No refunds.

Swag For Brag

Conglomerates literally spend hundreds of millions on customer appreciation ideas, after-sales services, follow-ups, recommendations derived from sales histories bordering on legalized stalking, and many other “customer loyalty programs” in their processes – basic  corporatese for “I’ll give you a foot rub and a chocolate cake.

Pretty please don’t leave me!” And such organizations have over-exploited the art of giving bland “personalized” swag in return for great customer satisfaction to the point where gifting an iPad with the purchase of a shovel would probably get a disinterested yawn in return – with the tablet thrown on the pile of electronics they received with the purchase of their last TV, laptop, and that velvety muffin from the bakery down the street.

Gifting an iPad with the purchase of a shovel would probably get a disinterested yawn in return

Essentially, these are the “Swag for Brag” models of business – where the client gets a shiny, new, personalized Rolex worth $500 after staying loyal to one brand for barely longer than a fruit fly’s lifespan.

And by and large, this model works if your company’s annual profits could sustain several African countries and a few Sheikhdoms. While giving away expensive gifts is as subtle a corporate way of saying “Love Me!” as Aston Martin is about its product placement in James Bond movies, or FedEx was in Cast Away – it’s still an indubitably effective way of keeping your brand at the forefront of your clients’ minds, as well as of those who come in contact with them on a daily basis.

However, there are several smaller to medium-sized businesses that don’t want to throw money on this process like a billionaire trying to expunge his kid’s criminal record for the fiftieth time – and that’s where the second set of customer appreciation ideas pop in for tea.

Warmth Works – Surprised, O Cynical World?

Here’s the first shocking tidbit about customer appreciation ideas which revolve around corporate gifts – clients rarely care about the monetary value of the gift itself.

Studies conducted by Prof. Frank Flynn at Stanford GSB have conclusively proven that the thought is definitely what counts when it comes to engendering intuitive appreciation in clients.

7 in every 10 customers leave a company because they feel unappreciated

According to these studies, roughly 7 in every 10 customers leave a company because they feel unappreciated – and not because of inferior services or even prices. They simply feel dissatisfied deep down because they believe that the company doesn’t care in general.

And increasingly, that dissatisfaction is less effectively addressed through mass-produced corporate gifts than that of the exclusive boarding school preppie kid when faced with the bag of cash sent by her Aspen socialite parents at Christmas.

Thus, the new slant towards customer appreciation ideas, in a strange bottom-up trend reversal where large businesses are now learning these tricks from small ones, is displays of human connection and warmth with the clientele.

Yes folks, it’s corporate PDA.

This shift is quite understandable as well if customer appreciation ideas are examined through the lens of psychology.

The “swag” method initially worked well because it allowed select clients to feel more important in a world where everything was geared to turn them into another proverbial cog for the industrial machine.

The extra gifts made customers feel like individuals in the eyes of a company – their personal existence and contribution to a firm’s success acknowledged through free items with more monograms than Hugh Heffner’s bathrobe collection.

However, with time, as customers became more aware that the gifts were as much part of the system as knobs on doors, their deeper needs changed from extra stuff which granted more bang for the buck to that most precious of gifts – time – in an age of business frenzy, where even the pirate’s pet cockatoo would be trained to squawk out daily offers and coupon codes.

This paradigm shift works particularly well for smaller businesses over giant conglomerates since such customer appreciation ideas require personal effort for execution – easier to do for a client base of tens and hundreds, rather than hundreds of thousands.

Also, as long as smaller businesses would have to compete for the prize of a stable customer base with larger companies on the latter’s terms, they would always lag behind since the rules of the game would be as strongly rigged to account solely for control over limited financial resources as non-regenerating Minecraft gameplay on a server of three hundred players.

However, smaller businesses can now effectively display the largest benefit potential clients have in choosing the Green Arrow of corporate models rather than Captain America or the Hulk – greater viability for personalized service and attention from the bulk of the structure, rather than just having your own dedicated “Steve” at the nearest call-centre.

With that in mind, let’s discuss some low-budget customer appreciation ideas which would win over the loyalty of potential clients without being the straw that didn’t just break the camel’s back, but gave it hernia, poked it in the eyes, and then kicked it between the legs for good measure.

Customer Appreciation Ideas – Bringing Back Personal Connections

The Value Of Transparency

Some of the largest problems in customer satisfaction today arise from the lack of transparency in corporate workings.

In days gone by, when mom-and-pop stores were as rampant as Pokemon trading cards, clients could directly communicate with the bulk and head of the operation.

Trading wasn’t just a simple transaction of goods for money, but a mini social-event of its own where the loyalty of a customer to one particular store always brought small and simple ways of bearing fruit – even if it was just a plain slice from that freshly-baked apple pie which was meant to be the family’s lunch.

While those conditions can’t be recreated for most businesses, they do translate smoothly to contemporary corporate structures.

The slice of pie is symbolic of being a part of that structure, and having that part acknowledged in a small but meaningful way. After all, that apple pie was at least partly possible because those customers always entered the same store for all their needs, while ignoring any benefits the competitors would have offered.

Therefore, the first customer appreciation ideas revolve around the importance of gratitude for the customer’s involvement. And that doesn’t mean a cheap, mass-printed note which has all the exclusivity of dental floss.

Instead, the most effective way is if CEOs simply pull sheets of paper from their desk, write a short thank-you note personalized to the client, and send it in – either with the shipment of a product, or just on its own if the services provided are virtual rather than tangible items.

Write a short thank-you note personalized to the client, and send it in

A secondary set of customer appreciation ideas, within the parameters of communication between clients and corporate structures, comes through the phone call from the top of the hierarchy.

This particular set may be even more effective than the first if the CEOs are particularly charismatic themselves – though obviously more time-consuming for all concerned. Such measures serve as concrete symbols of a company’s gratitude to its clients, in a climate where the head of a corporate structure is generally a name known only through newspapers and investor brochures, and quite often removed from the person actually conversing with clients by the entirety of the remaining hierarchic ladder.

They lend an illusion of transparency, even if it’s only momentary, and allow clients to once again converse with the head honcho of their service providers, as was the norm in days gone by.

Do it in person, rather than asking your assistant to make that call

Another corollary to this interaction is the ability to directly converse with the client about problems and disappointments they may have faced with your business in the past.

This phase of the interaction allows heads of organizations to directly identify and respond to the needs of their client base, reward employees who were particularly memorable for their quality of service, and appropriately deal with those who tarnished the name of the brand instead.

If someone in your employ has been delivering inconsistent service or has failed to meet a benchmark, offer gifts to make up for the problems – but do so in person, rather than asking your assistant to make that call.

However, if this particular idea is enacted, you have to act upon the client’s feedback visibly and do so promptly in a manner limited only by the needs of time. Even if you need to perform above and beyond the call of duty, customer appreciation garnered from direct problem-solving lays the foundations for life-long brand loyalty in a client as well as those affiliated with them.

Identified a product desired by a customer that recently went out of stock? Promise to deliver it within 4 days, and get it to them within 2 – and you will probably earn yourself a customer for life.

Not just that, but the inevitable cocktail story that this occurrence will become will gain you word-of-mouth referrals for life, thus successfully serving the purpose of customer appreciation ideas.

Personalized Wishes

No – this section isn’t about wearing matching party hats and throwing birthday bashes for your clients.

That would be as friendly to your budget as a conservative government is to sex education reform. These particular customer appreciation ideas have two major benefits – they allow customers to believe that they were at the forefront of your mind as individuals even if for a moment, and humanize the corporate structure in the eyes of your clients.

That makes it far more difficult to think of your company as a soul-less money-leech if services go awry, or things just don’t line up as smoothly as promised by your Himalayan astronomer who comes off the peak once every ten years to deliver a reading.

Get a tasteful birthday card for the client, get everyone in your office to physically sign it, and send it in through the post

The simplest way to fulfill the needs of customer appreciation ideas in this section is to effectively use that birthday information on the customer registration form.

Get a tasteful birthday card for the client, get everyone in your office to physically sign it, and send it in through the post. If your office is too large, or your business has multiple locations through the country, make sure that the CEO and everyone in the local office dealing directly with the client has signed the card.

If your business has means of acquiring information about other important events as well, marriages, graduations, and so on, send in your wishes under such circumstances as well. This will make the customer feel appreciated far beyond the effect achieved by a shiny watch, and will subconsciously link your brand to the good times in their lives.

Reward System Escalation

Also, in favor of creating a system which rewards escalating connections for longer loyalty to the brand, assign milestones for the length of time a customer has used your services – not the amount of money spent, but the length of time during which they have provided return business.

The problem with today’s popular customer appreciation ideas and loyalty programs is that they work like micro-transactions in Android games.

There is a problem with today’s customer loyalty programs

The glitz, glamor, and promise of carton-loads of free stuff is aimed at making you want to spend your money on these “free-to-play” models.

But the moment you open up your wallet and let that money slip through, they ignore you like the 17 year old orphan who just failed his twentieth parent interview – all the while sending you trinkets on automated schedules which have all the emotional impact of Robocop singing Ave Maria.

So, if a customer has recently made their first purchase with you, they get a thank-you note from the CEO.

If they’ve stuck around for a year, they get the signed cards from the office. And if they’ve been satisfied enough to be with you for longer than 2-year jawbreakers, make them personalized birthday videos showcasing you and your employees singing for them.

While you should be solving their individual problems with your business all along, and they should already feel appreciated by you from the get-go, this escalation makes them feel a sense of achievement in return for their investment of time and money with you.

In other words, use customer appreciation ideas to create a space “where everybody knows [their] name” as the song from Cheers used to put it. As time passes, they should feel as if they are as much a part of your firm as your own employees.

Element Of Surprise

One of the best parts of owning smaller to medium sized businesses is that you have much more direct control over the various aspects of your firm than leaders from larger corporate structures.

Use this advantage to formulate customer appreciation ideas which infuse a positive element of surprise within the service delivery for your clients. This could be achieved by randomly upgrading the delivery schedule of your customers to premium status, if your process requires physical delivery.

Or, you could add a feature to the existing service package to your client free of charge. 

So, for example, if you’re a web-design firm and you have undertaken a job, add a feature which your client wanted but couldn’t include due to budgetary restrictions, for no extra cost.

Not only does this give the client more value for their money, but it reflects concern on your part for their professional needs as well.

For those of you who just moaned about time being money, and billing every hour, and this step not being cheap – maybe you needed more hugs as children. The feature you add doesn’t have to be big or flashy.

As we’ve established, it’s the thought that counts in customer appreciation ideas, not the money you spend.

Helpful Information Versus Shameless Marketing

One particular freebie offering which gets my knickers in a twist worse than the plot of Armageddon is when CEOs and other company head honchos assume that offering their own ebooks would somehow enhance the lives of their clients.

Besides being a rather shameless marketing technique, the quality of these oft-hastily written or book-mill copyright-purchased pieces of fluff take away from the brand value of the firm rather than add anything to it.

Essentially, they fail most of the parameters of successful customer appreciation ideas, while informing the clientele that the firm is more interested in marketing itself by providing fringe material which has little relevance or engagement with their problems than by using those resources to increase the quality of its core product.

Send an email to your clients requesting them to mention the biggest problem they face with your service


Instead, what would be far more useful would be to create a newsletter, or send an email to your clients requesting them to mention the biggest problem they face with your service or in the usage of your product – and solve that instead.

If they are faced with an external problem which could potentially be solved through the service they avail from you, and yet are unaware of it, pointing this out would get you more brownie points than loading them with a hundred-page exercise in drudgery that works more effectively for insomnia than National Geographic.

Also, if you get decent response rates, you could address the issue en masse directly through articles in the aforementioned newsletter.

Also, instead of throwing them parties where strangers awkardly stand around other strangers with the only thing in common between them being that they recently purchased an inventory software from you – host vocational or professional webinars which may allow them to add knowledge of concrete value to their existing stores instead.

Oftentimes, if you search through the academic world, you would come across plenty of under-stated experts who would be gladly willing to share their knowledge in exchange for the exposure that such events bring to their own work.

If not, this could also be achieved through mutually beneficial skilled partnerships where another affiliate increases your brand value by interacting with your client network, with you doing the same for them in return.

Human Interest In Customer Appreciation Ideas

One way of looking at the purpose of human connections is that they let us feel more important, when measured by the yardstick of how far others would go to further our own life.

Human connections is that they let us feel more important

Though often ignored, the human interest element behind each transaction serves as a fool-proof way of capitalizing on the emotive side of business. With that in mind, send emails to your clients requesting them to list out their own transactional story with your firm, if they feel comfortable doing so.

Whether their last business suite software broke down in the middle of an important contract, or the first set of builders working on their house tried to double the expenses on the original quote price – they faced a specific problem when they came to you, and you solved it for them.

Among the stories which you get in return, search for the ones which have that tinge of emotion slathered across them – and feature them on your website and social media once a week.

Not only would this showcase that your business is competent in its service, but that you do give two flying factotums to the concerns and cognitive reasoning of your client beyond paltry monetary transactions.

The Basis Of Sound Customer Appreciation Ideas: The Verdict

The biggest problem with customer loyalty programs today is that companies treat clients like poor cousins just waiting for freebies, hands outstretched in perpetuity as you drop that third-rate t-shirt you never intended to wear – albeit with that smug smile on your face that says “Look, what a valuable gift I’m giving you; applaud how self-sacrificing I am in my magnanimity.”

Companies today treat clients like their poor cousins

It smarts clients enough to want to punch companies in the face, especially when they’re then faced with twenty-hour long waiting times to connect to a call-centre if their toaster so much as sneezed and broke a rib.

Clients don’t want a running tally of how much money you’ve spent on them in return for the money that they spent on you. While human psychology does work on reciprocity as a basic principle, monetary reciprocity offers the least return on investment simply because both sides worked hard for that money.

As much as it’s important, ironically enough, money is the cheapest commodity one human being can offer another.

Value of that particular gift then gets enhanced depending on the mindset of the receiver

The principle of reciprocity works best when the proffered gift is intangible – because the value of that particular gift then gets enhanced depending on the mindset of the receiver.

You could probably place a price on that last keychain you sent to your client, and they would rationalize not owing you anything for it because they figure it would be coming out of the generous profit margin they paid you anyway – and they would be right.

But how does that same client rationalize hearing back from the CEO of a firm just because the headmaster wanted to check up on them and see if they’re satisfied? Or, when they receive wishes from an entire firm full of people singing and cheering for them, though all the client had done was submit a check for a product they purchased in return anyway?

Emotional reciprocity becomes harder to pin down and even out – and so clients will forever remember the warmth you made them feel, and convey that same emotion to others around them when speaking on the subject.

Monthly raffles, discount coupons to other services and products, tickets to premier events, etc – few of these things would work as well as a heart-felt hand-written thank-you note

While there are plenty of other customer appreciation ideas you could use – like monthly raffles, discount coupons to other services and products, tickets to premier events, etc – few of these things would work as well as a heart-felt hand-written thank-you note, and maybe a business referral or two.

That’s because while gifting adds some momentary pleasure or comfort in their life like a freshly bottled batch of delicious jam – ultimately, it has as much long-lasting affect on the core qualities of their life as, well, as jam itself.


Written By

Aniket Saksena

I'm a business/academic/creative/HR writer, interested in pursuing and researching as many fields as possible in an effort to become a cross-domain business expert and opinion leader.