Random Acts of Appreciation

So, will performing random acts of appreciation for your customers make a difference? Absolutely.

Rather than focusing on “the next big thing,” I decided to keep in the spirit of the season and celebrate the little things.

A few weeks ago, I found an unexpected package on my doorstep. It was from an online retailer I shop frequently with. Inside was a lovely, living holiday centerpiece and a note of thanks. While uncommon, gestures like this aren’t unheard of. For example, Starbucks is well known for surprising its Gold Card members with coupons for free beverages. One Starbucks fan blogged, “I have never figured out a rhyme or reason to how Starbucks distributes coupons.”

The difference between knowing that every 15 purchases gets you a free latte versus getting a freebie you didn’t expect is the difference between a transactional and an emotional relationship. A points program is purely a business exchange. The fact that you “earn” rewards clearly indicates this process is a task.

That’s not to say that traditional frequency reward programs aren’t effective. But these programs have turned into a cost of entry for marketers in countless industries. In fact, the average U.S. household belongs to 14 loyalty programs. While they may be popular, points programs are hardly differentiators.

So, will performing random acts of appreciation for your customers make a difference? Absolutely.

Robert W. Palmatier, associate professor of marketing at the University of Washington, studies this effect in his article, The Role of Customer Gratitude in Relationship Marketing. He found that these incremental and unexpected efforts result in feelings of gratitude which, in turn, positively impact purchase intentions. The word gratitude sums it up beautifully.

Ready to give it a go? Here are three rules to keep in mind:

1. It comes out of the blue. The element of surprise creates impact. That’s why they call it “surprise and delight.”

2. It’s about them, not you. A discount or free item is always appreciated, but it should be something your customers really want, not something you need to promote or unload. If you want to send a “gift,” avoid anything emblazoned with your company’s logo.

3. Focus on your best customers. Sounds like common sense, right? Maybe not. For example, if the surprise is a product discount and there’s little to no cost for you to distribute it, you may be inclined to make it available to every customer. In this case, resist the urge. If everyone is special, then no one is.

I never did make use of my centerpiece. Unfortunately, it arrived just as we were going out of town for the week. But the gesture will be remembered and, as they say, it’s the thought that counts. May your new year be brightened by random acts of appreciation.

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