6 Tried and Tested Ways to Show Customer Appreciation
According to a Rockefeller Corporation study, 68% of customers turn their back on companies because they feel unappreciated. Failing to make your customers feel valued, will make you fail as a business.
But as customers browse through web shops in hop-on-hop-off style, it takes more than the obvious. “Thank you” is a phrase so common, it goes unnoticed as an expression of heartfelt personal appreciation. In this post I will show you the methods that do effectively show appreciation to the customer.
The foundation of it all: reciprocity
Before I start with my list, here’s an introduction to the concept that underlies all customer appreciation methods: reciprocity. As Robert Cialdini famously explained in his book Influence, reciprocity is people’s proven tendency to return favors.
You know that situation of being in a bar with a group of friends, and one decides to get a round of beers? Next, another buys a round. Now you feel pressured to buy a round of beers as well, and so do the rest of your friends. Before you know it, it’s the end of the night and you’re criss-crossing your way home, cursing yourself for having drunk so much more than you’d intended.
That pressuring feeling to return the favor, that’s reciprocity at work – and it drives strangers on the street just like customers in interaction with a business.
You’ll want to make your customers return your appreciation by sticking with your business. That’s why, ultimately, the question is what actions make them feel like you care about them. You’ll see that your actions might just as well be marketing as they are altruism. I recommend not to worry about that because in practice, it doesn’t matter.
What does matter, however, is that your actions are personal. While it won’t be easy to target every single customer individually, it’s crucial that they don’t feel like a number in your system. Reciprocity fails when a favor received seems impersonal. So, copy/paste style, at least the one that’s easily decoded by your customer, is a no-go. Giving away a free hair dryer to a bald customer won’t earn you any goodwill.
Unsurprisingly, our attraction and sympathy for someone who does us a favor increases only if that favor is in accordance with what we think is appropriate. A rose given to a prospect during a business lunch, for example, might not be so appropriate.
More noteworthy is that our attraction and sympathy towards someone increase more strongly when the favor is unexpected. This is what research by Worchel, Andreoli, and Archer showed in 1976. It also suggests that an unexpected favor gives interactions a character of uniqueness in the eyes of the recipient — increasing memorability.
Transfer these findings to customer appreciation and you’ll receive a bunch of surprise-options. Those can be undemanded delivery status updates, an individual birthday freebie or discount (assuming you have the data), or gift cards and giveaways on weird and unofficial holidays.
The downside of any surprise is that it’s a one-time-shot — unless it’s forgotten by the recipient, of course. Good thing then that its counterpart, predictability, is just as valuable. Even if you won’t find it in many lists dealing with customer appreciation.
As Howard H. Stevenson and Mihnea C. Moldoveanu explained in the Harvard Business Review, flipping through the history of mankind, predictability has likely been people’s main reason to associate with groups in the first place. But from gaining physical protection in bands of hunters, to more diverse farming with less risk, to more crisis-proof manufacturing with companies, there was always a practical benefit involved.
While surprise is a great hook for first-time-customers, what makes them stay with you is the certainty that your appreciation persists and is beneficial. This certainty can either be forged by coming up with more and more fancy surprises (which is tricky), or by defining extras as standards.
Think of the little things that you can provide customers with under stable conditions. Things they still consider as added value when they become standard, that your competitors don’t offer in the same way. Gradually increasing discounts for frequent purchases, for example, or particularly pretty packaging for goods of certain price categories with personal thank-you cards.
3Being there when it matters most
We all know that “a happy customer is a good customer.” But what if I told you that a frustrated customer offers unique options to prove your appreciation that the happy one doesn’t? This is a tip about having the right timing.
To understand the potential here, we need to look at what frustration actually is. It’s a negative emotion as result of the impression of high or insurmountable obstacles on the way to achieve a goal or will. It’s a situation in which the customer is sensitive. Demands are up while expectations are low.
You will run into these situations with customers because mistakes will always be made and issues will always pop up. Situations that are routine for the service rep — such as lost luggage or service delays — are special situations for your customers. Sticking to standard procedure here can further fuel the frustration, since it signalizes indifference when what the customer wants is understanding for her feelings. This understanding is empathy.
I don’t want to compare a break-up to lost luggage, but just think about friendship. Probably you would define a real friend not as the person that’s around most of the time, but the one that’s by your side in bad times, right?
You can act like that friend with your company if you show your appreciation through empathy. For a start, you can follow these rules in customer communication:
- Open up
- Focus your attention outwards
- Withhold judgment
- Offer help
- Be curious
- Challenge your own prejudice
- Treat people as being important
It used to be one of Steve Jobs’ famous credos not to apologize for a product. I’d rather go with Apple’s current CEO Tim Cook who opened up to a more empathic customer interaction. And, to be realistic, this is a good idea for any company with less of a cult-like following than Apple’s.
In a 2012 survey by Marketing Charts, 33% of the questioned companies named “providing exceptional 24/7 service” as their best shot at building customer loyalty. So, a substantial part of customer appreciation consists of simply being available for any customer in a timely manner.
It’s thus best to reply to any message from a customer — whether it’s a question, complaint, feature request or banter.
A concept that exceeds mere availability for customer enquiries is proactivity. Proactive behavior in customer service requires the anticipation of customer needs and an active, unannounced approach to help fulfill those needs. In this sense it also connects to empathy and surprising. Unlike availability, it can make a customer feel especially appreciated.
Write proactive mails to see if everything’s alright, not only when your data shows you that a user or customer hasn’t completed the last step of your checkout process. Let a chat window pop up when a visitor spends a long time on a product’s page, suggesting he is having a hard time deciding or is simply in need of more information.
5Letting the customer close any case
In customer service contact, when the customer’s question is answered, many service reps consider the job done and end the conversation.
I too am glad when my issue has been resolved by the support department. But I’ve experienced more than once in a support chat that I began typing an additional question of understanding that suddenly came to my mind and then noticed that I sent it out into the void because the rep was already gone.
This makes you feel like you’re but a number in the company’s system, not an appreciated individual with an individual level of comprehension, who maybe had a tiring day and is not at his best in this particular moment.
That’s why in support I stick to the rule that the customer closes any case, not me. I’ll keep asking if there’s anything else I can do until there isn’t. Included in this approach is that the customer will not be left in uncertainty about how a case will be solved if a fix isn’t available right away. You can set up follow-ups for colleagues and yourself to make sure the customer will not be forgotten.
A great way to create an atmosphere of personal interaction is to show your interest in the customer’s development toward a more knowledgeable consumer of your goods.
You could look, for example, at what a customer has been interested in in the past and provide a book tip — even if that book isn’t available in your store.
You can offer webinars, blog content and tutorials, and inform individual customers when their favourite subtopic is featured. You can inform them about the most visionary new products —even before they become available.
If your customers see that there’s no immediate monetary interest behind your outreach, it will only increase the impact of this appreciation method. And it doesn’t even mean that there’s nothing for you to gain: A knowledgeable customer is more easily upsold to. If you’re an expert in audio equipment, you are most likely not satisfied by the cheapest speakers, but will be interested in the top-notch stuff in upper segments.
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