The ROI of Reciprocity: 9 Ideas for Delivering Meaningful (and Cost-Effective) Customer Delight

Customer appreciation ideas for delivering delight

The vast majority of businesses would do well to invest more in customer appreciation. Why? Because goodwill and positive customer sentiment are genuinely valuable for almost every burgeoning online store.

Initially, you need to give every customer who gave your brand-new business a chance a reason to publicly sing your praises; later on, keeping your business profitable will almost certainly rest on getting more customers to make repeat purchases. If you’d like for your customers to refer even more customers and consider buying from you again, their impression of you needs to be great—and this is where small gestures can go a long way.

There are several approaches you can try in pursuit of this, but knowing where to start can be tough. To help, we pulled together the top nine ways to let customers know you value their business and their loyalty.

What makes for a fruitful customer appreciation effort?

There’s a near-infinite number of ways to show customers your appreciation, but the most effective gestures share a few key traits. Here are four that are always worth considering:

  • Memorable and meaningful. Not all customer appreciation ideas are created equal. What you consider thoughtful may not feel all that meaningful to your customers, and they get to set the standard. For example, will your customers find a charitable donation in their name more compelling than a gift card for the same amount?
  • Sincere. Today’s shoppers are savvy—if a gesture is insincere, they’ll see right through it. Most entrepreneurs really are grateful for their customers, but you still need to remind yourself to speak honestly: be careful of using language that oversells your enthusiasm or sounds like something you, or your brand, would never say. Staying true to your voice will keep you sounding as sincere as you mean to be.
  • Unexpected. Not every appreciation gesture has to take customers by surprise. But when your efforts are the same as every other business’s—such as following the playbook of near-constant discounting—the value of those gestures can melt away. Instead, introduce the idea of “surprise reciprocity” to your support strategy, where the occasional unexpected extra is used to break expectations and delight new customers.
  • Affordable. Loyal customers are invaluable, but your appreciation efforts still need to be financially sustainable. The key is to measure the cost of your repeat and one-off gestures against the lifetime value of your average loyal customer, then decide what percentage of that number you’re comfortable with and able to spend on driving loyalty.

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9 customer appreciation ideas to try

Now that you’re familiar with a few common patterns found in the most successful appreciation gestures, let’s take a look at a concrete list of ideas to try. These examples offer a great starting point, but the key to driving customer delight is adapting a basic approach to uniquely fit your brand and your customers. The change doesn’t have to be a radical departure but should aim to make the gesture feel like a genuine extension of your brand, instead of just another generic bit of well-wishing.

1. Send handwritten thank you notes

Handwritten thank you notes are one of the most cost-effective ways to demonstrate appreciation to your customers. Despite their low cost, these notes are good at communicating sincerity and humanizing your brand in customers’ eyes.

Example of a customer thank-you note
Casper keeps its handwritten thank yous light-hearted and to the point.

Taking the time to handwrite letters lets customers know you’re willing to invest more than money to keep them around. Plus, handwritten, tactile mail automatically stands out in the digital age.

Your note doesn’t have to be long, drawn-out letter either. If you ensure it’s personalized and authentic, your sincere appreciation will shine through.

2. Feature customers on your blog or social media

Brands can spotlight customers on their website or social channels
Bridal salon Dream regularly spotlights customers on its social media.

Featuring customers on your blog or social accounts is especially useful when your product involves creative input or is a part of a customer’s identity. For example, exercise products highlighting customers who have made progress with strength or weight loss, or products for hobbyists that helped enable brand new creations.

The key to featuring customers is to remember that it’s their story, and you’re just tagging along. You’re grateful that your product and brand could be involved, but a customer spotlight is always more engaging when you make it all about them. This is one example where you don’t need to go overboard talking up your appreciation—you’re showing it.

3. Ship a meaningful gift

Sending a small gift along with a customer’s purchase is a widely-used tactic, but how effective are most of those “free” gifts? The reality is that a generic pen branded with your store’s logo isn’t all that meaningful to the average customer—even a loyal one.

If you spend some time coming up with a small gift that will actually mean something to your unique customers, you can make this idea a lot more effective. For example, relevant, well-made merchandise can be meaningful: a company like Casper could consider sending a high-quality sleep mask, especially considering the premium nature of its products.

4. Launch a loyalty or referral program

One of the easiest ways to regularly demonstrate your appreciation is with a loyalty or referral program. While both take some work to set up, once launched, they often can run autonomously—inspiring customer loyalty without constant monitoring.

Loyalty programs are remarkably effective because, when done well, they can turn the sometimes unprofitable one-time purchase into a frequent shopper and loyal customer. An effective loyalty program boosts profitability by growing customer lifetime value.

There are two main keys to a great loyalty program:

  • Find the right balance between rewards big enough to entice customers and margins that keep those orders profitable
  • Make it simple and easy for customers to earn, receive, and use their rewards
Great rewards programs offer tailored benefits
REI’s co-op program offers very tailored benefits, designed with its core customers in mind.

Clothing and outdoor brand REI offers a loyalty program that enables customers to pay $20 for a lifetime membership to the REI Co-op. This entitles them to awesome rewards, like an annual dividend, access to “garage sales” on heavily discounted returns or used items, and REI Adventures trips and classes.

5. Implement customers’ feedback

Here’s a way to show your appreciation that many businesses fail to recognize: listen to your customers. Loyal and engaged customers often are your most vocal shoppers. That means they can be a great source of valuable feedback that can improve every aspect of your business.

This type of customer appreciation can drive a ton of value for your brand. Listening to and implementing customer feedback helps you create a better product and a better experience incrementally—giving customers exactly what they’re looking for. Cultivating that feedback can help build a deeper relationship between customers and your store—but only if you actually listen and act on what customers have to say.

When making significant changes based on feedback, you can let customers know their voices have been heard in your messaging. For example, a new product line or accessory that was created based on feedback could launch with some messaging around how customer input influenced your decision.

6. Designate a customer appreciation day

Many of the customer appreciation ideas mentioned so far are ongoing efforts. However, it can be difficult to keep up with an ever-expanding list of ideas when you’re busy building a business. Consider designating a set day or week that’s 100% dedicated to showing customers you care.

You can offer a limited-time customer appreciation sale, host a special event for your most loyal customers, or spend the day sending out all of your thank you notes at once.

Remember, National Customer Appreciation Day is April 18th, but you can choose any day that works for you and your customers. Some brands hold customer appreciation days when they reach a specific business milestone, like earning their 1,000th customer.

The important thing is that your customers know about the special day and what you’re doing to show your appreciation. Take this email from beauty and skincare company Avon:

Host your own customer appreciation day

Avon sent out a clear email message to customers detailing the reason for its sale, the timeline, and all the other important details.

7. Host a customer appreciation event

Speaking of hosting events, whether you have a physical retail space or not, you can reward your most loyal customers by hosting an event (real or virtual).

That could mean opening a pop-up shop and giving specified customers exclusive access or first crack at a new product. Your event also can be unrelated to your actual sales, simply engaging customers based on their interests and hobbies.

Meet up with loyal customers for a customer appreciation event

Ice cream connoisseur Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams, for example, hits the road in the summer to bring free scoops to customers in the know.

8. Segment rewards

The most basic rewards program uses points to reward customers for every dollar spent. But to really showcase your appreciation, a graduated rewards program can be even more effective.

Example of a popular customer loyalty program
Sephora’s Beauty Insider is one of the most popular loyalty programs around.

A graduated program segments members into tiers. Customers in higher tiers typically earn points faster and are eligible for bigger and better rewards. That means your most loyal customers see the most appreciation, with the added bonus of further incentivizing them to keep patronizing your store.

9. Thank you and milestone emails

Handwritten thank you notes aren’t the only way to surprise customers and showcase your appreciation. Handwriting notes can be time-consuming, but you can create a similar effect with one-to-many email marketing automation.

Consider this email from theSkimm:

Automated emails can be sent to show customer appreciation

This mass email uses personalization to make theSkimm’s customer appreciation efforts more scalable. It’s an unexpected way to remind customers how much the business appreciates their patronage and respects the investment they have made in the brand.

The business value of a simple thank you

Your customers are what make your business successful. Showing them your appreciation is about more than saying thanks in an email—and it’s one of the best ways to ensure happy customers stay happy and stick around in the long run.

With the above ideas for inspiration, plus a little emotional investment, you can create memorable, meaningful, and sustainable ways to tell customers you appreciate their business and their loyalty.