Sent with Love: Surprise Your Customers with Small Gifts of Thanks

by Margot Carmichael Lester, Staples® Contributing Writer

Every customer likes receiving a little customer appreciation gift that says, “Thanks for your business.” The custom has been practiced for centuries by the indigenous peoples of the Americas, and is a long-standing tradition in the Gulf States, where merchants throw in a little something extra, like a bonus praline or a small branded trinket. My New Orleans relations call these gifts lagniappes, and while they’re often low in monetary value, they’re always customer relationship gold.

There are multiple ways to show customers a little love when you ship them something — from the care you put into the packaging itself to the little “extras” you include in the box or envelope. “It’s one of the most important marketing touch points in my opinion,” says Columbus, OH–based marketing consultant Jason Parks. “Rather than just talking on the phone or sending an email, they know you took the extra effort to earn their business.”

We asked small business owners to share their customer appreciation ideas and practices to provide some inspiration.

1. Include a personal message: The CEO of Secaucus, NJ–based Royce Leather personally signs a note for each order so it can be tucked into the packaging. This practice can take a couple hours each day. Why invest that kind of time? Marketing director William Bauer explains: “You could have the best concept or supply chain or distributors, but ultimately it's the consumer who makes or breaks us. The two seconds of signing a note per customer is the least we can do to convey our sincerest appreciation. It feels like a gift, it's special, and at the end of the day, making your customers feel special is what it's all about. If you're clever enough to create that experience in a box, customers will come back for more.”

Take Action: Select letterhead or notecards and envelopes that match your brand image, and then craft your message.

2. Introduce a product: This derivation of the lagniappe tradition allows you to say thanks and offer a free product trial. Samples are especially popular for products that carry a high price tag or those items customers want to try before they buy. Golly Gear, a pet supply store in Skokie, IL, includes a small package of dog treats in every order it ships. “It introduces the customer to a new product they may have been reluctant to spend money on, knowing that treats are not returnable and their dog may not like them,” explains owner Hope Saidel. “It has resulted in countless orders for these treats and reassures our customers that we pay attention to the things that matter to them. Small touches like this, which are inexpensive in both time and dollars, make a difference.”

Take Action: Identify products that lend themselves to sample sizes, and then select bags or boxes in your brand colors to hold them. Use cold packs and insulated shippers if refrigeration is important, and don’t forget labels with your logo!

3.    Help customers show their love: Inexpensive items bearing your logo show you care and help extend your brand while saying thanks. Steve Hall, owner/operator of Indianapolis, IN–based Tinker Coffee Co., includes a sticker with the packages he ships. “The great thing about bulk stickers is that they're cheap, so you're not out a ton if someone simply throws them away. On the flip side, the best thing someone can do is put the sticker on the back of their laptop or Nalgene bottle, something like that. In that situation, we can potentially grab some brand awareness at a very low cost. As far as risk and cost versus reward goes, stickers make a ton of sense. It all really boils down to surprise and delight.”

Take Action: Investigate options for logoed giveaway items like stickers, bottle openers or pens that suit your brand and budget.

4.    Acknowledge the occasion: Some business transactions are seasonal or prompted by an event, like a wedding or birthday. Acknowledging that in a sincere and appropriate way shows customers you care — even if the occasion is somber. Adam Fried runs Adams Urns, an online source for cremation urns and funeral supplies in Teaneck, NJ. He includes a condolence card with each order, and instead of sending flowers, he sends a paper card pressed with wildflower seeds. “When planted, it creates a living memorial to your loved one,” he says. “I have customers that buy from me years apart because they remember our customer service, the quality of our goods and the speed with which we delivered their urn.”

Take Action: Order pre-printed or custom occasion cards and envelopes, and choose unique gifts that relate to your core business.

These small gestures can have a big impact on customers. “It makes me feel good — appreciated, loved, even — feelings that are all too rare in today's cold world,” says Amy Weirick, a Columbus, OH–based marketing consultant. “There is something really quaint and appealing about this approach. But it must be backed up with good service and quality products. Just being touchy-feely isn't going to erase poor products or lousy customer service.”

Brainstorm ways in which you can show customers the love with a little surprise in their next package. “In spite of all the chatter about big data, nothing celebrates a customer more than a truly human personal touch,” Bauer says.

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