Last summer, my family and I went on vacation in the Canadian Rockies. After several months of being pent up at home in Toronto, we were beyond thrilled to be out in the fresh, open air of an entirely new landscape.
During our journey, we splurged on two nights at a very expensive hotel. It was my husband’s idea to treat ourselves and, even though the hotel was inarguably beautiful and luxurious, I harbored some resentment at the cost—twice as much as our other lodgings. That is, until we began to interact with the staff.
On our first day, we rented e-bikes to travel to a nearby lake. A few hours in, there was an accident on the road that we were taking, and they called us to make sure we were okay. When we returned the bikes, a little later than the appointed time, they waved off our apologies and hoped we’d had a great time.
The next morning, my teenage kids wanted to sleep in, so my husband and I went to the dining room for a pricey breakfast. When I asked if we could take our toast to go, our server packed us a box of pastries to take back to the room, and to our kids. There were several freebies throughout our stay—an extra canoe rental, a coffee. But more than that, there was a genuine sense of appreciation. When we were gifted the free canoe rental, the person helping us said, “We’re glad to have you here.” And before we left, we stopped in for coffee at the little shop off the lobby that we’d been frequenting and were told it was on the house. “Thanks for staying with us,” the barista said, more genuinely than I thought was possible in a customer service interaction.
And before we left, we stopped in for coffee at the little shop off the lobby that we’d been frequenting and were told it was on the house. “Thanks for staying with us,” the barista said, more genuinely than I thought was possible in a customer service interaction.
Luxury hotels generally come with high-touch service, but this felt different and, oddly, personal. By the time we drove away, my resentment at the cost of our stay had completely evaporated. It was replaced with beautiful memories and the feeling that we were valued guests whose business was appreciated.
As we enter the season of coupon codes, discounts, and doorbuster sales, it’s worth a reminder that gratitude can go a long way–all year long.
The power of 'thank you'
We’re not the only ones who are lulled into a stupor of customer satisfaction in response to service steeped in gratitude. In fact, it doesn’t take much to change the attitudes of most consumers. A wide-ranging 2019 study that tested the effects of including a simple “Thanks” comment on submissions from users who contribute to Wikipedia found that they were more likely to be engaged after a two-week period if they had been shown this gratitude. They were also more likely to thank other Wikipedians for their contributions, a domino-effect phenomenon I have also experienced firsthand.
And according to another study published in 2019, thanking a customer who has experienced a small service failure (e.g., waiting longer than expected for a restaurant table) is more effective at smoothing things over than apologizing. Researchers found that an apology restores any hard feelings from a customer service snafu, but gratitude increases esteem because the act “honors customers as benefactors and highlights their merits.”
Two little words—or the actions that imply the sentiment—really can go a long way. Curious about some other ways that businesses can show gratitude to their customers, I put a call out for best practices. Here are some of the responses.
[Related read: Gratitude at work: why giving is as good as getting]
Add a personal touch to a thank you email
Alex Willen, founder of Cooper’s Treats, a premium dog treat business, says gratitude for customers is in his company’s DNA.
“We try to show our gratitude in a few ways. First, the thank you email that our customer receives is one that I've personally written that includes my favorite picture of my dog (the eponymous Cooper). It's a little thing, but I really want our customers to get more than a generic order confirmation when they decide to spend money with us,” said Willen.
For bigger orders or repeat customers, they add a personal touch to say thank you, such as a surprise dog toy. And when they’re testing new products, they send free samples to their best customers to get their feedback and show how valuable their opinion is to the company.
“I really believe these gestures benefit the business in the long run, particularly since the dog treat market is a crowded one and a personal relationship helps us stand out. It's also one of those things that we do because it just feels like the right thing to do. If it impacts the bottom line positively, that's great, but even if it doesn't, we'll keep doing it as long as we can,” he said.
[Related read: The power of a culture built on gratitude]
Offer discounts, draws, and extras
At Debthammer, a personal finance business, discounts and freebies are passed on to long-time customers. “We often get reduced rates on things like courses, ebooks, and other learning materials. We like to pass these savings onto our most loyal customers so they can have access for a fraction of the retail cost,” said CEO Jake Hill.
By the time we drove away, my resentment at the cost of our stay had completely evaporated. It was replaced with beautiful memories and the feeling that we were valued guests whose business was appreciated.
“We also hold monthly drawings with our most engaged customers. Winners have their accounts upgraded so they have access to everything on the site and all supplemental materials, as well as any future offers that come in. We've even run the occasional contest to help pay down one source of debt for a long-time customer.”
Use the ‘thank you’ to offer help or encourage feedback
Some businesses continue to grow the customer relationship long after the sale with a personal check-in. Chane Steiner, CEO of Crediful, a personal finance site, says he wants to show each of his customers that they’re more than just a transaction.
“I believe that if you show your clients that you’re grateful for their business, they are going to feel appreciated. I usually show our company's gratitude by messaging them after the sale, to thank them for their business and see if there is anything we can help them with,” he said.
Provide personalized service
Jonathan Newar, CEO of Captain Experiences, a resource to search and book fishing charters, says his business isn’t big enough for grand gestures that cost money. He differentiates by going the extra mile.
“I know how much each customer tends to spend and I try to match the average with a gift card and a note that says something like, ‘Hey Jim. We just wanted to let you know how important you are to our business,’” he said. “I deliver them personally on holidays and whenever the mood strikes me. Our customers are our neighbors, and our neighbors are our friends. That’s how we want them to feel.”
[Related read: How to show customer appreciation (+ customer gift guide)]
Karan Nijhawan, founder of Jube, a virtual event company, is all about listening. “About two weeks after our first meeting, we'll send clients a gift and a handwritten note expressing our gratitude that they decided to work with us,” he said.
“The most innovative thing we've done recently is send our clients a coffee mug that includes words that their peers or clients have used to describe them in our meetings. We've seen tears of joy when people see the collage of words used to describe what that person means to others.”
Pass it on
There are lots of creative ways for businesses to show they appreciate their customers. The “how” seems to be less important than the commitment to expressing gratitude routinely.
After all, a certain hotel chain has my undying loyalty just by offering kindness, a free canoe rental, a handful of pastries, and a heartfelt “We’re glad to have you here.” Ultimately, it seems that expressing gratitude is a strategy most businesses can’t afford not to invest in.