Customer Appreciation, keeping gratitude at the heart of the biz

file0001154350520At times I feel like the term “customer appreciation” has come to be synonymous with rewards programs, loyalty incentives, and flashy gimmicks. To me this is a sign of too much operational process in the way of customer interaction. Sure, you need to do things to increase sales and pour effort into your marketing (how else is a customer going to know about what you do?) but reducing it to Sunday paper advertisements leaves a lot to be desired. So what is the answer? Connect to your customer in a way that is meaningful.

First, let’s look at appreciation from the perspective of how people interact with each other. Appreciation comes from a sense of gratitude and gratitude is a sense of being thankful for something. When you get a hand written note from someone or even an email because you did a good job, doesn’t that feel great? I’m on cloud nine when I get compliments for our classes at the SBDC or when I give a presentation. If people are taking the time to tell me a message, that’s important. In our jobs/roles we all have opportunity to interact and express gratitude.

Next, the most important source of customer interaction is the front line who serves them. Sales people, customer service representatives, cashiers, shift supervisors all have the most interaction with your customer base and (hopefully) the trust and rapport that has been built up. This is where your customer appreciation is going to come from so you must empower your staff to be able to make meaningful interactions with them. Sometimes there are things we do in our everyday jobs that give us the greatest opportunities to make someone’s day.

Way back when I was a store manager in retail (retail coffee that is) the team I worked with was very connected to the customer base. I almost found it challenging being new to the store when I took it over because the customer loyalty was so intense! But when it was apparent that I wasn’t a mean scary stooge and cared about the 400 plus people that walked through the doors every morning, it was pretty easy to connect. All I had to do was care about what was important. We would personalize what we did for the customer. A complicated coffee drink became a “Cindy” because we made it every day. It was 6:30 because “Richard” and “Larry” came in to read the paper and hang out with “Cindy.” The store became a place where regulars could go to be together, share stories about their family and work day. Our everyday interactions became conversation topics with their friends and family and that was meaningful.

I recently read the story that was shared on Facebook about the Trader Joe’s customer that came in after a funeral of a family member. Upon hearing this the cashier left her register and got a bouquet of flowers, gave it to the customer and wished her well. No manager approval, just acted in the situation. Now I don’t know if this is the full story or even true (all asset protection concerns aside) but there is a lesson in this. Do what is meaningful for your customer in the moment, at that time. If you are a leader in your organization you must empower your employees to make decisions, within reason, to positively impact your customers.

Finally, interactions like this don’t involve huge marketing plans or tracking systems for rewards points. These are repeated opportunities for your business, every day, when you talk to your customers. It doesn’t matter if your business pours coffee or concrete, or sells really trendy fashion to a niche audience. The same principles of knowing your customer and empowering your staff to make meaningful moments for them are the drivers of repeat business. Customer appreciation can be as simple as making something personal, doing something in the moment that is meaningful, or even just knowing them by name.

If you haven’t recently slowed down to reflect on what you’re thankful for then please take a moment to minimize the browser you’re reading this in, reflect on something that was a nice touch, and then feel the thanks that you’re in a position to enjoy it. OK, come back now and make some meaningful moments.

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4 Responses to Customer Appreciation, keeping gratitude at the heart of the biz

  1. Jenny M. August 21, 2013 at 2:18 pm #

    Fantastic perspective! I especially appreciate the concept of the empowered customer service representative.

  2. lk alfson August 22, 2013 at 6:18 pm #

    Great insight Jason! Everyone in health care should read this article. So proud of you!

  3. Jason Mueller (@SmallBizJason) August 23, 2013 at 10:19 am #

    Thank you LK! I do think that healthcare would be an interesting application to this model, I’m sure there are organizations mulling it over as the competition is getting stronger in that industry. And thank you Jenny M for noticing the “empowered customer service representative.” That idea can apply to CSR’s, sales reps, middle managers, and even interns.


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