I'm having a good chuckle at myself this Sunday morning...
I came into the office to finish up a project and discovered a small package in my in-box. It was from the research group in China with whom I contracted for some mini-groups. So as one typically does when a mystery package is received, I tried to guess what was in it. Too small and odd-shaped for the focus group video. Definitely too small for a final report. Ahh.... it must be a thank-you gift from China! How cool is that? Throughout my career I've contracted countless research firms and subcontractors, and this is the first thank-you gift I've gotten at the end of a project.
"Wow, I'm going to blog on this," I thought to myself. A terrific one-to-one thank-you gift that set them apart from other researchers and showed that they cared about my business. I eagerly open it up, wondering what I received from the far East. The box contained focus group videos burned onto CD-ROMs. No note included. I felt quite disappointed, and then had a good chuckle at myself for even thinking that a research group would actually send me a thank-you gift, or even a card. Goes to show how rare it is.
So I've decided to do this in my own business. My personal epiphany from this little episode is that although I greatly appreciate my clients and I love helping them solve their business problems, I certainly don't demonstrate it like I should. I think the key challenge here is how to thank customers in a novel and genuine way. For a small business, or one with limited numbers of customers, that's relatively easy. For thousands or millions of customers, how can you do it in a way that hasn't been done a million times before (like reward points?). Citibank came out with its new Thank You commercials to promote its new reward program that features -- you guessed it -- points. I'd rather use my AAdvantage Citibank card and get frequent flier miles. I've read some harsh criticism of the campaign in the news because it's simply not believable. Points are no substitution for a heart-felt thank you. (And the ads make no sense either, but that's another post for another day.) The key is to show real appreciation, not to put a corporate marketing program in place. And this is best done through the actual customer experience. For example, I feel appreciated by the employees at Whole Foods and not at Simon David. So I drive farther and spend more money at Whole Foods, and I feel good about it.
Take the money spent in impersonal rewards points and put it towards hiring great employees, effective training and a fun work environment. Then you'll start seeing happy and loyal customers. Last week I watched some focus groups among B2B tech buyers who just wanted to receive a phone call from a senior manager (not the sales rep) once a year to thank them for their business, find out how they like the product and learn how they could help them better. Once a year!!! Just a call from a branch manager once a year would make these customers happy... and they spent several hundred thousand dollars on these systems. That would mean a couple phone calls per week for a manager to gain customer loyalty and repeat purchases. I'd call that a good return on investment.
So how are you thanking your customers? What about your employees?