When I was a girl, my mom had a steadfast rule about thank-you notes: Other than a short window on Christmas Day, there was no playing with our gifts until our thank-you notes had been written. It was excruciating for my brother and me to watch the neighborhood kids ride past our house on their shiny new bikes every December 26th. We instead sat writing note after note to everyone from grandparents to Santa Claus. We were likely the only two children who ever wrote to the North Pole after Christmas, but she insisted that we acknowledge the labors of Santa and his elves.
As much as I hated writing those notes, I have to admit, we received extensive compliments from the recipients. I learned early on how tickled they were to learn that we liked the sweater or that we planned to save the money for college. I quickly caught on that thank-you notes made people happy, and usually resulted in bigger and better gifts the following year.
The art of appreciation will move to the front burner in 2009, as clients looking to reduce costs may analyze the benefits of your services. Knowing their business is important to you can set you apart from your competitors and create trust and long-term loyalty. Research shows it’s actually cheaper to generate more business from exisiting clients than to pursue new ones. And it’s important to note that recognition is not just for the holidays. You can’t send a fruitcake at Christmas and ignore the other 11 months.
Do you have a well-planned, consistently executed “Client Appreciation Program” for your existing customers? If not, now is the time to start. It could be as simple and inexpensive as handwritten cards when a client signs or re-ups with you; adds or expands business, or celebrates an anniversary as a client. Skip e-mail if possible; personal greetings carry a more genuine message. If you know a client is celebrating a life event such as a wedding or new baby, be sure to send your written congratulations — or sympathies when appropriate. If your budget allows for coupons, rewards programs, referral incentives, small gifts, or client events, add those in. Just be sure you’re doing something to recognize your clients regularly.
It takes mere minutes and just pennies to stand out in a crowd. Now, when your crowd of competitors is likely dwindling, it’s easier — and more important — than ever to show your clients you value their business and your relationship. Just like I learned when I was a child, the mere expression of personal appreciation can have fringe benefits, both in life and in business. Looks like mother really does know best!