Rethinking Customer Appreciation: Showing Gratitude Is Not About The Money

By November 26, 2012 March 26th, 2014 Marketing 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.