Celebrate Your Customers with Customer Appreciation Events

by Carolyn Foy Evans, Staples® Contributing Writer

My mother used to stay up all night making ham biscuits for the annual client holiday party at my father’s law firm. She probably could have just bought them, but she wouldn’t have considered offering his clients anything but homemade.

No matter what your business is, your customers are always your lifeblood. In fact, according to a Constant Contact survey, 82 percent of small businesses said loyal customers are the number one way that they grow their businesses. Sure, you can and should offer customer rewards programs and regular communication, but there are other ways to show your customer appreciation.

The most successful activities truly connect with your customers’ interests and needs. Host an event that adds value, whether it’s making customers’ lives easier, giving them useful information, making them feel special or simply involving them in something fun.

Not sure where to start? Consider these factors when planning a customer appreciation event.

Inform & Educate

If you can identify a pain point plaguing your customers and prospects, you can build an event to help them address it and establish yourself as a helpful authority. For instance, an attorney might offer a session on estate planning, a CPA might lead a workshop on important tax code changes for small businesses, or a painter might offer a short workshop on how to touch up a scratch or scuff.

“Our clientele is mostly nonprofits, so we’ve tailored our services and events to meet their needs,” says Eileen Rogers, principal of Allegra, a marketing agency in Scottsdale, AZ. She hosts a monthly Food for Thought lunch-and-learn session, in which area nonprofits are invited for a free meal and an educational seminar on various topics, like marketing, storytelling, etc.

It’s OK to reach beyond your direct service, too. The Beehive, a hair salon in Carrboro, NC, opens its downtown location for classes offered by other businesses whose work benefits Beehive customers, such as nutrition classes. “We want our customers to be able to learn and enjoy new things, even if they aren’t a direct part of our business,” says owner and stylist Diane Koistinen.

Have Fun

Fun and creative events to create customer loyalty can set you apart from your competitors.

Koistinen hosts an annual art challenge, open to anyone in the community. Contestants submit work based on a different hairstyle each year, such as curls, mullets, etc., and submissions are displayed in the salon during the competition. The winners are announced at a special event during the monthly art walk, creating a fun occasion for current clients and potential customers. Winners receive a gift certificate, and all entrants receive a goody bag.

Do Something Nice

Sometimes the best way to show your appreciation is to hold an event exclusively for your very best customers and partners. Choose an event that suits your type of business and its culture. You might prefer an elegant cocktail party at a local restaurant or an outing at the ballpark for clients and their families. Often Chamber of Commerce members can get discounts on skyboxes at local sports venues (during games or not), which can help you offer a special experience at a better price.

Further reduce the cost of events by co-marketing or trading with venue owners. Rogers keeps costs low by purchasing through a partner. “We use a local nonprofit that trains people for a career in catering to provide our lunches,” she says.

Don’t Forget the Swag

No customer appreciation event is complete without personalized giveaways. “We’ve done everything from personalized pens to custom pool tables with corporate logos,” says Gregorio Palomino, creative executive officer with San Antonio, TX, event planning company CRE8AD8.

Most of your customers have already received their fair share of koozies and stress balls, so look for something unique. For instance, a cooking school or personal chef can give out aprons emblazoned with their logo, slogan or quote. A general contractor can provide branded measuring tapes or a 3D-printed rendering of the latest project. These are great to give out at events you host, and at trade shows, expos and community activities.

Do It Right, or Don’t Do It At All

Hosting a special event may seem expensive, but in the big picture, it’s worth the cost. “We wouldn’t be in business without our customers,” says Rogers. Yet many owners are loathe to loosen the purse strings.

When he asks clients what they want to spend on events, Palomino says the answer is universal: “As little as possible.”

But don’t scrimp when showing your appreciation to customers. Instead, host a cost-effective event by spending wisely. That’s the best way to make the event pay off for you — and be special and meaningful for your clients.

Carolyn Evans has a long-running passion for innovative products, great design and interior decorating. After a session of reading insightful cocktail napkins, she decided to leverage her experience with start-up companies and financial institutions to build a career as a retail consultant for independent stores and young gift and apparel manufacturers across the Southeast. Evans lives in Chapin, SC. Follow her on Google+.

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