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Low-Cost Customer Appreciation Tips

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Eleven easy ways to express gratitude.

By Lauren Arakelian

If anyone deserves appreciation, it’s your customers. And, most of the time, it doesn’t have to break the bank. In fact, most shops can afford to express gratitude year-round. By doing so, you’ll take your business to the next level by making a memorable impression and gaining repeat customers.

“Customer appreciation is important to do for new and repeat customers because it makes them feel special,” says Mick Goleash, owner of MBC Collision Center in Springfield, Illinois. “When you go an extra step, they feel like they’re the only customers you have and are thankful.”

The following 11 tips showcase what top shop owners do to turn a small, low-cost gesture into a big, long-lasting thank you.

Gadget Guy Giveaway prizes.
Photo courtesy Ultimate Truck Service

The Gadget Guy giveaway at Ultimate Truck Service includes colorful keychains in the shape of an animated figure.

1. Giveaways galore.

They say the best things in life are free. Complimentary gifts give you the opportunity to reward your most loyal customers.

“We have company shirts, cup holders, mugs, calendars and pens always ready for a giveaway,” says Judy Lindenmuth, co-owner of The Truck Shoppe in Sacramento, California.

Debbie Jennerjohn works with a local wholesale distributor for her Gadget Guy giveaway. The co-owner of Ultimate Truck Service in Ridgefield, Washington, purchases colorful four-in-one tools in the shape of an animated figure complete with a flashlight, bottle opener, keychain and tape measure. The gadget is then gifted to customers in a personalized presentation.

“We are giving new and current customers something useful, and we are keeping our names at their fingertips,” Jennerjohn says. “The more times they see our name, the more likely they will call us for the repair. They remember that we took good care of them and believe we will do so again.”

If you’re on the go, remember to always be at the ready. Dave Bloom keeps useful supplies on hand in his car for customers. The owner of Pine Aire Truck Services in Bay Shore, New York, has become known for giving out bottle openers, back scratchers and customized keychains, pens and notepads.

Cost: 75 cents to $3.25 per piece or $30 per month, depending on the product and size of the giveaway.

Dan Klepper of Sawaya Fleet Services shakes the hand of a customer.
Photo courtesy Sawaya Fleet Services

Dan Klepper (right), owner of Sawaya Fleet Services in Denver, smiles as he warmly greets and shakes hands with a customer.

2. A friendly smile never goes out of style.

It’s the little things that count the most, so ask about your customer’s day with that 1,000-watt smile. Or, offer him a handshake or an embrace, and he’ll feel as if he’s walking into your living room, according to Jennerjohn.

“Treat your customers like family,” says Jennerjohn, who likes to pursue a warm greeting as long as people are open to receiving it.

Cost: Time.

Treat your customers like family.

3. Tummy tamers.

Invite customers and fleet managers to your shop for a complimentary meal. After all, good food equals good mood. “We do lunches and breakfasts, so we can sit down and get to know their needs in a comfortable setting,” Lindenmuth says. “We don’t want to come off as a salesperson; there’s no pressure.”

Don’t have time or space to set something up in your shop? No problem. Dan Klepper, owner of Sawaya Fleet Services in Denver, assigns a member of his team to take customers out to lunch.

Goleash shows appreciation by dropping off cookies once or twice each week to his customers and fleet managers. He places his business logo on top of the cookie containers, and also hands out personalized notes or promotional pens.

Lynnetta Rogers delivers pizzas to customers with special thank you notes attached. In addition, the co-owner of 2nd-to-None Service in Moriarty and Albuquerque, New Mexico, sends large cheesecakes, and dozens of donuts on a weekly or monthly basis. “My customers usually respond with ‘Oh, yummy!’ or ‘Thank goodness I don’t have to pick up or order out food today,’ ” she says.

On slow business days, Lindenmuth sends an employee to deliver breakfast burritos or pizzas to customers and fleet managers. “We‘ll take [food] to them, and socialize and strengthen our relationship,” she says.

Cost: $20-$40.

4. Reward referrals.

Small gestures go a long way. They earn you customer gratitude, as well as loyalty.

Goleash hands out special MBC Collision Center Visa cards to recognize customers who recommend his services to others. His referral rewards go as high as $50, depending on the size of the job.

Cost: $10-$50.

Our customers know that by spending dollars with us, they’re giving back to the community.

5. Winner, winner, chicken dinner.

The thrill of victory is real. By creating fun contests or simply drawing names out of a fishbowl, you can generate a lot of buzz.

Lindenmuth’s fishbowl drawing prizes include special shirts and hats. She buys them in bulk, and imprints them with her business logo.

Cost: $8 per shirt and hat.

6. Reach out to your unhappiest customers.

It can be difficult to approach customers whose demeanor reminds you of Grumpy Cat. However, high risk can bring high reward.

Goleash doesn’t hesitate to connect with a dissatisfied or former customer—especially if an opportunity exists to mend or jumpstart the relationship. “I call or go in person, and speak with someone rather than sending a card,” he says. “The customer is sometimes shocked to see me, and we pick up where we left off.”

Cost: Time.

Personalized thank you notes sent by Mary Lang to customers of E.L.M. Repair and Refrigeration
Photo courtesy E.L.M. Repair & Refrigeration

Wisconsin shop owner Mary Lang sends customers personalized thank you, birthday and sympathy notes year-round.

7. Who writes thank you cards anymore?

You do, and so does Jimmy Fallon. In fact, 3 million people tune into “The Tonight Show” to watch him handwrite humorous thank you notes.

Make this concept work by setting aside only a few minutes of your time each week. Write personalized messages of gratitude to new and existing customers by using business stationery, online tools or homemade cards.

Mary Lang makes a big impression by sending personalized thank you, birthday and sympathy notes year-round. The co-owner of E.L.M. Repair & Refrigeration in Edgar, Wisconsin, uses Stampin’ Up! card making products such as card stock, designer paper, rubber stamps and ink.

“You may think that this is a lot of work, but it can be rather easy,” Lang says. “It’s fun and relaxing for me to do, and the appreciation from the customers is very satisfying.”

Rogers utilizes the services of a customized marketing site to create her personalized thank you cards. She also attaches her business name and logo.

Cost: Less than $1 per customized card.

Customers receive goody bags of candy at Ultimate Truck Service
Photo courtesy Ultimate Truck Service

Debbie Jennerjohn, co-owner of Ultimate Truck Service in Ridgefield, Washington, attaches business cards to assorted nuts, candy bags and specialized cookies for customers.

8. Offer sweet tooth treats.

There’s nothing a sweet treat can’t fix. Jennerjohn enjoys watching her customers’ excitement as they scoop up a bag of colorful candies or assorted nuts on their way in or out of her shop. She attaches her business cards to clear bags filled with chocolates, or cashews, peanuts and almonds.

“They don’t eat it all at once,” she says, which ensures customers frequently return to the bag where they can see her logo or read her shop information over and over again.

Jennerjohn also works with an outside salesperson to distribute specialty cookies with her company logo stamped in the center.

To cut costs, purchase chocolates and sweet goodies in bulk, or from a wholesale supplier, Lindenmuth suggests. Then, divide the gifts into separate bags, which can be customized to include your shop’s name and information.

Cost: Approximately $1 per bag.

9. Ask customers about their favorite sports and hobbies.

Find common interests. Whether it’s America’s favorite pastime, the gridiron, a green jacket, high-speed left turns or March Madness, people enjoy sharing their sports preferences.

Once you know which teams they root for or events they like to attend, surprise them with a free ticket. As a season ticket holder, Klepper often rewards customers with free admission to local baseball events.

Cost: Depends on the event.

Diesel repair tech donating turkeys on behalf of Ultimate Truck Service.
Photo courtesy Ultimate Truck Service

Ultimate Truck Service donates turkeys to a local food drive. The Ridgefield, Washington, shop also collects cans and donations on an annual basis.

10. Get involved with local charities.

Philanthropic efforts not only promote a sense of goodwill, they also increase your visibility in the community. For every $100 spent by her customers, Rogers donates 50 cents to $1 to her local food drive. Plus, she collects classroom supplies before and during the school year and canned foods on a regular basis, and then donates them to food banks and charities.

“Our customers know that by spending dollars with us, they’re giving back to the community,” Rogers says.

Jennerjohn’s customers enjoy participating in local food drives, so she collects cans and donations on an annual basis. Jennerjohn also matches the donation total.

Cost: Time, plus donation amounts vary.

11. Include small accessories with your customer’s invoice.

Nearly 30 years ago, Clairee Belcher told us that the only thing that separates us from the animals is our ability to accessorize. So, take that “Steel Magnolias” advice, grab a folder and fill it with useful accessories. Then, present it to customers when you hand them their invoice at the completion of each service.

Rogers includes seasonal repair tips, special promotions and informational pamphlets, along with air fresheners, pens, yellow highlighter markers or flashlight keychains. Each item can also be imprinted with your business logo.

Cost: $2 per folder.

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