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Rethinking Customer Appreciation: Showing Gratitude Is Not About The Money

By November 26, 2012March 26th, 2014Marketing Insights & Strategy
Rethinking Customer Appreciation: Showing Gratitude Is Not About The Money

Put this in the “things that have been bugging me” column.

It started a few months ago as I grew more and more disillusioned with my bank. Some people will tell you that if you deal with big banks you deserve what you get because you’re basically looking into a hot oven and sticking your head in anyway.


I like to look at all businesses as people. I like to think that somewhere behind the bricks and mortar and stupid policies is a human being who is well-meaning, doing their job, maybe even kind.

So while THE BANK started to vaguely piss me off, the tellers and reps and people who I spoke with were otherwise helpful and friendly.

I’m telling you this story for a reason, and it gets personal, so bear with me.

Prologue: Where Loyalty Begins

I’ve been with the same bank for 15 years and suffice it to say that I stuck around out of loyalty. Not to THE BANK per se but to the people – all those lovely, helpful tellers and reps and other people who helped me do my daily banking.

Other banks wanted my business.

They sent me offers and deals. They wanted to give me free toasters. They wanted to increase my interest rates and decrease my fees.

But I stuck with my bank because I wasn’t about to tell Janice at the drive-through window or Katherine at the desk that I was leaving them. I wasn’t going to take a chance with some other people when I had my own people right there.

My people were nice to me. They thanked me for my business and at least outwardly appreciated my existence. They answered my questions, took care of the details and mitigated my concerns.

And all was right in the world.

Until it wasn’t.

The Story: Or, How A Bank Pissed Me Off So Badly I Almost Needed Therapy

You see, I had a number of accounts at that bank, including a loan. And I had a coupon book that I used to pay my loan every month until one day when the coupon book ran out.

And I stopped paying the loan.

Not because I didn’t want to pay the loan.

Simply because I’d been using a coupon book for years and then the coupon book wasn’t there. So at the end of the month when I sat down with my bills to write checks, that one never got written.

A phone call came in from the bank telling me I had missed a payment.

We had a lovely conversation about how my coupon book had run out and I’d never received a replacement. And how they would be sending monthly paper statements in the future. I paid the bill and we all had a nice day.

Until the next month, when no statement showed up. And no check got written.

Maybe I should have been more on top of things. But maybe even you do the auto-pilot bill-paying thing where unless something is in front of your face, it may as well not exist.

The call came in again. I told the rep about the empty coupon book, the lack of statement and the lovely conversation I’d had with the previous rep. I confirmed my address. She assured me I would receive a statement. I paid the bill and we all had a pretty nice day.

I bet you can imagine what happened in month 3.

By month 4 or 5, presumably the bank got tired of not sending me statements and calling for my payments, so they decided to preempt the whole thing and simply took the money out of my checking account without my consent or knowledge.

That explained why I started bouncing checks.

And the sudden need for therapy.

Conflict Resolution: Or, How Loyalty Is Lost

By the time I reached the next rep I was in mini-meltdown mode. I assured the rep that even though it was not her fault it was now her problem because I needed someone to fix the situation.

Couldn’t I just go paperless and get an email reminder instead?

No, they couldn’t do that.

I asked in a hundred different ways if there was something someone could do to help me. I even told them – in a state of major-meltdown – that if they could afford to call me about missing a payment, why couldn’t they call me a day in advance of missing the payment so I could take care of it on time? Sort of a reminder instead of a reprimand?

No go.

The rep assured me that statements were being mailed though nary a one had showed up in my mailbox. As for taking the money out of my checking account, well, apparently someone had called and been unable to reach me, so that was that.

It was a big, stressful deal. No conversation, no plea, no amount of calling and asking for help yielded more than trite reassurances. Couple it with other petty irritants of which there were more than a few, and I lost my cool and simply closed out all my accounts there.

Hastily, perhaps, because I forgot to print out a single checking account statement .

When I realized I was missing a statement I called to ask if one could be sent to me.

Sure it could.

For a fee.

But they sent me the “thanks for banking here, don’t let the door hit you on the way out” letter for free. After 15 years nobody even bothered to ask why I was closing my accounts. Nobody invited me to stay.

Appreciating Customers And Honoring Loyalty When It’s Not About The Size Of The Bank Account

I’m no big fish. Nobody noticed when I closed my accounts at that bank and there is no line item for it on their yearly statement to stockholders. Nobody is crying into their latte or missing any commas in their bonus.

And this, ladies and gentlemen, is when my feelings about appreciation and money started to coalesce.

It got me thinking about what we really reward our customers for.

And it struck me that in many cases, we reward them for their money.

Now don’t get me wrong. I love money. I want big gobs of it so I can fill my swimming pool with it and wander around my golden palace in between pillars of money bags.

But that doesn’t mean I am about money.  Do you know what I mean?

So why do I – or you – or anyone – reward our customers who spend lots of money with us? Why do the big customers get the big Christmas gifts? Why do the big spenders get our cell phone numbers? Why do they get the discounts and special attention?

It’s rhetorical.

I know why.

It’s because we want them to keep spending gobs of money with us and so we stroke them and give them perks and keep them happy.

I challenge you right now to break that mindset.

I challenge you to think of each and every one of your customers as worthy of your best time, your best gifts, and if you’re going to give it, your cell phone number.

Whether they’re whales or guppies, we should – we must, for a better world and better business – appreciate and reward all of our customers. Otherwise it’ll just go on being all about the money.

Loyalty Is More Than What Someone Spends. Gratitude Should Be, Too.

When a customer spends $1 out of his $10 budget , that customer is equally as invested as the customer who spends $10,000 out of his $100,000 budget.

Maybe more so, perhaps, because there’s a whole lot less wiggle room. It takes a pretty good amount of trust to hand over one of your last ten bucks, wouldn’t you say?

And yet our immediate instinct is to send out the thank you cards and the chocolate towers of treats to that second customer. Our instinct is to throw in a perk or two for that second customer, to give him a discount for his loyalty and patronage. After all, he is a good customer. He helped us get a little closer to filling our money bags.

But that’s not what customer loyalty is about. And I don’t believe it’s the premise on which we should base our gratitude.

I’ll take the customer who gives me a dollar out of his every ten over the customer who throws a random gob of cash at me any day.

I’ll take the one who comes back again and again, one dollar at a time, over a thousand dollar hit-and-run.

I’ll take the customer who treats me kindly and respectfully. Who is honest with me. Who comes with faults and issues and problems the size of China but who sticks around because we’ve got more than dollar signs between us.

Maybe I won’t get rich that way. But I’ll die happy.

I want you to think about your customer list right now. If you’re giving equal time for equal value then it doesn’t matter what someone is spending. If you’re exchanging products or services fairly then the total doesn’t matter.

Big spenders may help you fill your golden palace quicker but that doesn’t make them more loyal and it shouldn’t detract from the gratitude owed to everyone else.

Confession: I’m Guilty

When Christmas rolls around, we pull out our client list and the Godiva goes to the big spenders and the Hershey goes to the little guys. Everyone else just gets a preprinted card.

I’m learning to think about customer loyalty and appreciation differently. Over the past few years I’ve thought outside the wallet and shown my gratitude not to those who line my pockets but for those who keep my business running. The people who stick with us, who support us and who help us grow. The ones I can count on.

We’ve had one client since just about the day we opened our doors. Some years he spends a bunch of money with us. Some years he spends almost none at all. Every year we talk, we plan, we brainstorm, even if it’s not a billable event.

Every year we fight.

We disagree about things. We screw up and he gets mad. He ignores our suggestions and we get mad.

Not once has he ever suggested that he’s going anywhere else for our type of services. Not even on our worst delayed deadline days.

What kind of person would it make me – and what kind of business would I be running – if I only sent him Godiva on the big money years and a boxed card the rest of the time?

Last year we sent out gifts to every last customer on our list. Some who didn’t do a cent of business with us all year but who we still have contact with and can count on to come back when the time and money are right.

That’s appreciation.

That’s how we should be doing it every day.

Gratitude For A Different World

We live in a money society. You can’t escape the fact that if you throw enough money around you can buy someone’s gratitude and appreciation.

Banks that will ignore me because I’m not worth the mattress to stuff my cash in will be giving me free gifts and perks when I show up with my big gobs of money bags.

Expensive restaurants give you better service. Wait staff give you better service if you’re a big tipper. Retail boutiques will serve you coffee while many regular salespeople will barely notice your existence.

The message is clear: give me a lot of money and I’ll give you my attention.

Most days I don’t walk around thinking, by golly, if only I could throw an extra hundred bucks at that deli guy, I bet he’d make my sandwich first!

But here’s what does occasionally cross my mind: if I buy a sandwich at that deli every single day, I should get mine made before the guy who’s spending a hundred bucks because he stopped in once to grab some lunch for a company meeting.

I don’t want to be that person that hears the chime of a cash register and pastes on the appropriate smile.

I want to be the person who appreciates all of my customers, even the ones who drive me totally nuts. Hey, I haven’t fired them, have I? No? Then why shouldn’t I feel grateful to have them?

And I also want to inspire you to think about gratitude perhaps a little differently. I want all of us to reward our loyal customers and to remember that loyalty does not equal the amount on a check.

Epilogue: Where We Go Next

It’s the holiday season and a time when we naturally tap into feelings of gratitude and appreciation. Witness the volume of “things I’m grateful for” blog posts and Facebook statuses and tweets.

I couldn’t find one shred of motivation for pulling more gratefulness drivel out of my hat, so you won’t find any gushing thankful posts from me.

Instead, you got a diatribe!

But I hope that it will help you rethink gratitude, appreciation and loyalty. I hope that in the rush to send holiday cards and tokens of thanks, you’ll stop for a moment and remind yourself what gratitude is really about, and what it is that compels you to feel it toward someone.

As for me, I’m going to keep appreciating my customers and showing it equally. Gratitude doesn’t have to be shown with gifts, discounts or perks. It can be shown in attention, time, consideration, respect. If you’re truly grateful you can show it even when you can’t “afford” it.

And some of my customers will still get the super Godiva tower of treats but it won’t be based on revenue. It’ll be based on more ethereal things like relationships and connection.

It just feels better.

Join the discussion 20 Comments

  • That was one of the best anti-grateful drivel posts ever, Carol Lynn. I, too, find it perplexing that we don’t take each opportunity — no matter how small — to REALLY interact with each other. The relationship is the whole point of why we’re on this spinning ball of crazy.

    Also – that bank? They’re damned lucky, if you ask me. Lucky you stuck around as long as you did. Lucky you didn’t name names. Most of us (me included) might not be so nice about being treated that way.

    The size of a customer’s wallet is never indicative of what they could mean to your bottom line. Word of mouth comes in all shapes and sizes.

    • I read a fantastic story once about a company that won a very lucrative project because of a single man who never did any business with them but who they were helpful and kind to and who remembered it. I wish I could remember where it was because it was worth the read. But it speaks to your point, which is that you never know what ANYTHING could mean or how it may come back to bite and/or repay you. So I say keep good karma going. Kindness, respect and gratitude – not money – are what makes the world go round.

  • Love this >> “Gratitude doesn’t have to be shown with gifts, discounts or perks. It can be shown in attention, time, consideration, respect.”

    I agree that gratitude or appreciation shouldn’t be based on how much money is thrown at something but we do live in a capitalistic and otherwise “unfair” society (in the sense that $$ talks and everything else walks!).

    Good topic too Carol! The next question is how do we attempt to turn this thinking around so that as a society we show gratitude based on respect as you’ve mentioned? 🙂

    • That’s the million dollar question, isn’t it Lakesha? I don’t think there’s much to be done on a grand scale. We’d be fighting an entire culture and years of conditioning. But what we CAN do is change our own little corner of the world. It starts with one person. So maybe one blog post today will inspire one person to think a little differently and share some appreciation in a non-monetary mindset. And if that inspires one other person… before you know it we’ve got ourselves a whole movement 🙂

  • Ruth Zive says:

    Literally, the MOMENT before I read this post Carol Lynn, I was sharing a Facebook post with my partner about this very topic. A friend of mine posted that she received flowers at her home from her DENTIST…yes…her DENTIST; simply to say ‘thanks for the business and loyalty all these years’. It wasn’t even a holiday bouquet! She has been bringing her family there for more than 10 years, and so the dentist sent her flowers. Now THAT leaves an impression, don’t you think. A thank you for no reason other than to express gratitude. To me, that example is precisely what customer service is all about. The unexpected and authentic expression of thanks. Great post!

    • Wow, that’s exactly the kind of gratitude that makes you stop and notice! I’ve never heard of someone’s dentist sending flowers before but that’s what makes it so awesome. You know that dentist really appreciates their customers. It’s so heartening to hear that kind of story!

  • Adrienne says:

    Ah, guess what Carol! The same thing happened to me with my insurance agent but get this. I’d been with them since I was 16 years old. Did they care? Hell no…

    I called my agent three times and never got his ass on the phone. They sent me a pink slip saying I missed my payment, which I had paid half like I’ve religiously done for years, and threatened to cancel my policy! I said are you fricking kidding me?

    So I went shopping for insurance and moved ALL of mine over to another agency all because of that incident and he still never called me to ask me why. Like you, I’m just a small fish in a huge sea but I’m a person who I thought they valued my business but I was obviously wrong.

    It’s not always about the money but we all know how big word of mouth is for a lot of businesses. Don’t they even consider that when a long term customer ends up leaving! I would think some type of call, an I’m sorry or thank you so much for your years of business is there anything we can do to remedy this situation. That’s a start I would think.

    I agree Carol, a little gratitude goes a long way and to me showing customer appreciation will keep your ass in business a lot longer.


    • Adrienne, it sounds like you have “one of those stories” too. It’s hard to believe how you can be with a company for so long and they don’t seem to notice or care. The problem is they are just too big, and one person complaining is no big deal for them. I guess if enough people complained and they started losing money, that’s the only time they’d care. It’s so discouraging. But I would rather do business with a small company anyway because their customers are definitely a bigger deal!

  • Excellent thought provoking article, Carol.

    This made me think of my car insurance which I dropped after years of being a loyal customer with no accident. One day I backed up from a friend’s drive way and didn’t see the darn mail box and scratch the back and back door of my car. I called my insurance and told them the problem. I paid my deductible and they paid for the repair.

    To my amazement a little while later, I received a letter from those jerks letting me know that they wouldn’t be able to assure my car at my current rate/level (or whatever they name it) anymore. I called them right away to make sure I read right and dropped their ass.

    I know that a huge car insurance such as this one didn’t care about little me, or do they? They are advertising on TV everyday, so they should care about every single customer don’t they?

    But guess what I went to another insurance, actually bigger than them, and I’m with them for like 8 years now and they have been great with me, even when I had a couple of accidents in a week time. What those big companies need to remember is that they are not alone and if they don’t know how to appreciate a good customer, one of their competitors will.

    • Ah, so you have a story too! It always happens with the big companies that deal with money – insurance, banks, etc. Because that’s all that matters to them. They put out nice TV commercials about how much they care and all that nonsense but it’s just… nonsense. It’s supposed to make us feel better about the fact that in the end they will kick us out the door if it costs them one cent or one extra effort.

      As I mentioned to Adrienne, I would rather do business with small companies because customers are important to them. They can’t afford people running off to the competition and if things go badly, that’s exactly what will happen. Word of mouth is huge.

      Well, we can always do things right by our customers and hope that one day other companies will see it the same way!

  • What a great take on gratefulness Carol Lyn! As I was reading through, what came to mind is the time I had today. One of my “hobbies” is to buy and sell antiques. I have a booth in an antique store. Each vendor chips in twice a month for a shift to help the owners and get a discount on our rent.

    Today, someone came to the counter so happy to find a great pink depression glass candy dish. She was delighted it was only $20. I said “hey, didn’t you read the sign? That came from my booth and it is 50% off. She leaped for joy!

    Another man came in to purchase silver coins. He told me how he wanted to collect them for their value. The box he was looking at was not going to appreciate in value, so I told him the best way to invest, we exchanged emails and I’m helping him.

    As for my business, I treat my customers all the same. Some spend more money with me than others, but I never thought of it that way. They are my loyal customers and I give them the very best service I can. When they need more time, it is given. When they ask me how much more it is, I say nothing… I chose to spend more time with you. You paid for your hour and I chose to spend an hour and a half because you needed it.

    Customer service is our life line. I don’t like to chase the dollar. The dollar chases me.


    • Well it sounds to me like you are all about the PEOPLE, Donna. But that’s something I knew because it comes across loud and clear in everything you say and do. When you told that customer that the dish was 50% off, I bet a lot of people would just have played dumb and taken what money they could get. But the good people, the honest ones who care about others will do exactly what you did. If we care about our customers, we do give a little extra – extra time, extra services. and it’s not because they paid us more. I know this was preaching to the choir with you 🙂 I think fewer of us as small businesses and solos have this problem because we are in relationships with our customers every day.

  • Ryan Setter says:

    All I can say to this one is BRAVO. This one really hits home with me. Excellent, authentic, totally genuine, totally fresh piece on gratitude! What more can I say?

    • Thanks Ryan, it definitely came from a “real” place. Some of this stuff just gets taken for granted as “the way it is”. But it doesn’t have to be! We can always be better.

  • It’s so sad that we have to write such posts in this day and age when brands are supposed to “get it” with customer service. I think we all have such stories, and that’s what makes me cringe: too many businesses that us for granted.

    Sure, it’s not always easy operating a business, with employee turnaround, different policies adapting to varying customer needs and so on. But gheez, a sorry like yours seems to happen all too often. Couldn’t someone in the bank pick up the phone and try to understand what happened? No, I guess they’re too busy counting money…

    Oh well. Thanks for the thought-provoking post. Indeed, it may just be the kick in the butt I needed to talk to my financial advisor who’s been doind diddly-squat for me in years… 😉


    • It’s so hard to find a big company that actually cares one iota and its customers, especially when they know A) our options are limited (think Comcast) and B) sometimes switching is a real pain (think banks!)

      I hope you take your financial advisor to task! Why stick around and be taken for granted? maybe a little prod will get him moving again 🙂

  • Gazalla Gaya says:

    Great post as usual, Carol. And thought provoking too, especially at this time of the year. It’s already making me rethink how I need to treat my customers at the end of this year or really anytime at all. In fact, as a small business, I think we can take advantage of the fact that we personally know each and every customer and we can also address their concerns and needs. Thanks for sharing your story and tying it to concrete steps we can all take to appreciate our customers and build lasting relationships.

    • Thanks Gazalla, I had to rethink it too, which is part of what came about in this post. I agree that as small businesses we have a lot more opportunity to get to know, appreciate and recognize our customers. and so maybe we have an even greater responsibility to do so and improve the entire business landscape!

  • You have hit the nail on the head with this post. I enjoyed reading it, and agree with you about the way people are treated depending on the size of their wallets! It is important for everyone to feel appreciated, and if businesses got it right, they would end up reaping the benefits. Unfortunately they only seem to care primarily about instant results, and forget about the long-term ramifications of they way they conduct themselves.

    Thanks for your ‘diatribe” 😉

    • Thanks Jamie, hopefully this will be food for thought for anyone who has read it to rethink gratitude a bit and make sure they’re truly appreciating all their customers. I need to give myself my own little kick in the pants, too, because it’s easy to get lazy. But the power is in the relationships and we really need to be paying attention to them!