Tuesday, December 6, 2011
Seal It With a Stamp – Gift Giving Vs. Good Service
By Akia T. Garnett, MBA
Customer Retention Program Basics
My pal, Frank McKinney, co-franchisee of a soon to be opened Tide Dry Cleaners which will be located in northern Virginia, former franchisee of a restaurant called Camille’s Sidewalk Cafe, and representative for an online greeting card generation and mailing company Send Out Cards (which allows for customization and mass mailing at reduced prices) asked me if I thought that sending out greeting cards to clients is a good relationship building tactic. I provided Frank with my thoughts and he suggested that I feature this topic as a blog. Below are my thoughts on using cards (and gifts) as a basic customer retention tactic:
Sending greeting cards and gifts are a great way to say “Thank You”, “Happy Holidays”, “Happy Birthday”, to show appreciation, and of course, to re-engage a client with whom you’ve lost touch. The messaging of today’s greeting cards have advanced, whereas they are both diverse and specific, which provide even more opportunities to personally address your clients throughout the year.
In addition to the sleek customization services that today’s card automation companies offer, companies specializing in premiums and corporate gifts have even more automation capabilities to personalize and package merchandise in small and large quantities. Both types of companies have made it easier to mass produce and expedite the packaging and shipping process while maintaining the integrity of a corporate brand.
Here’s one example. Sarah Meisenhelter, Long and Foster realtor located in Northern Virginia has created and maintained an annual calendar mailing campaign as a “thank you” gift for her clients. Below is what she had to say:
“We’ve sent 8″x11″ calendars that go on the fridge for years (at least 10+). The primary reason we send them is to offer a small gift to our clients, many of whom have become friends over the years. We add new clients to the program and always send one to previous clients. At this point, we have a large number of people who look forward to receiving these every year and will contact us in mid-December if they haven’t received theirs yet. We also include a personal family photo with a holiday greeting. Many people look forward to seeing how the grandkids have grown and how many we have currently, which creates a very personal feel. We truly don’t do this as a way to get more business. It’s just a “thank you” and a good wish for the new year.”
Here’s the Tricky Part: It is important to separate cards and gifts from the ‘work’ you actually do for your client(s).
Cards and gifts serve as relationship building tools. They cannot be used in place of good service, neither can they be used to build a substantive and authentic relationship with your clients. No matter how great the gesture or gift, in today’s competitive marketplace, good service is still king. Therefore, customers will voice their right to receive what they’ve paid for. Likewise, for relationships gone sour, cards and gifts might help temporarily, but they won’t guarantee that clients will not leave if the greater issues are not addressed in ways that meet their expectations for curing problems.
Showering Clients … with Good Service
Even though retention management is a great concept, remember that if your aim is to maintain market share, or encourage repeat business, investing time and effort into understanding how to deliver great service will better ensure success in that area. It is important to remember that problems will always arise, deadlines will not always be met, service deliverers will sometimes get it wrong, and occasionally, clients simply won’t be happy. What do you do in those instances? Focus on your ability to deliver good service and less on gift giving. Once you’ve smoothed out your operations, any relationship building program you resume or intensify will positively correlate with the client’s experience of your brand. When service delivery and relationship building are done well, top of mind awareness (TOMA) with your clients is maintained – thereby increasing the likelihood of repeat business.
Caution: Be sure you understand and have permission to speak.
It is important to have some concept of who your clients (or prospects) are before you mail greeting cards or send gifts. Keep in mind that procurement policies may prohibit some clients from receiving gifts of any kind. Additionally, everyone doesn’t celebrate birthdays, and neither does everyone observe holidays. Taking a chance by mailing them without permission is what many companies do. However the best way to know if and when clients want to be mailed is to ask them. In marketing terms, allow them to opt – in to your mailings for cards, and find out about their procurement policies for gifts. When your clients give you permission to include them in your retention programs and when it is appropriate to do so, your relationship building tactics will go even further.