Congratulations on making your latest sale! Now, it’s time to ensure that customer becomes loyal to your brand. But how? One way is with personalized customer appreciation gifts.

Brandon Carter has been a customer loyalty writer for more than 10 years. He’s currently the marketing communications director for Access Development, which specializes in connecting companies with customers. With Carter’s expertise, we’ve found five effective customer appreciation gifts – and two you should avoid.

1. Handwritten thank­-you notes

No list of smart customer appreciation gifts would be complete without thank-­you notes. Consumers receive dozens of emails every day, but few get handwritten thank­-you notes after a purchase. A personal touch is a powerful tool for keeping customers engaged, and an old­-school, analog approach stands out in the digital world.

“People respond to people, which is why the handwritten card is always going to be effective,” Carter said. “We are fairly cynical about business, and a lot of us expect to be treated poorly. When a business does something to show appreciation, a measure of sincere gratitude, it stands out. We remember that.”

2. Value-­added freebies

Send customers gifts related to their recent purchases. Adding value to a new purchase – while showing the customer you took the time to learn what they’re interested in – will set you apart from your competition.

“Recently a colleague of mine took an interest in weightlifting, and made a couple of purchases on bodybuilding.com,” Carter said. “A few weeks later he received a package from that site with a gym bag, nutritional supplements, some other gear and a letter saying thanks for being a customer. I’m not sure what the cost was to the site, but that gift ensured that he would go to bodybuilding.com whenever he needed something.”

3. Go beyond ‘happy birthday’

People enjoy celebrating their birthday. Oblige them. Don’t just send them a generic “happy birthday” greeting; craft a personalized email or written note and include a freebie or discount, and give them time to use it.

“Birthday gifts always go over well,” Carter said. “Make them redeemable for the entire week, though. Don’t just assume people are coming to see you on their birthday. Stand out by giving them some time.”

4. Pay it forward

Instead of giving an existing customer a prepaid debit card as a gift, go one step beyond. Choose a repeat customer at random and comp the purchase entirely. That’s a small price to pay for a lasting impression.

“The pay­-it­-forward trend is one of the better feel-­good trends over the past year,” Carter said. “Instead of customers paying for other customers, why not just randomly give someone their purchase for free?”

5. Don’t forget their anniversary

Note when customers make their first purchase and send a thank­-you message with a discount or freebie on their anniversary. Everyone wants new customers, but keeping consistent buyers happy is easier and more cost-­effective.

“While gifts are great for new customers, it’s just as important to continue recognizing your longtime customers as well,”

Carter said. “This is something a lot of businesses forget. Most incentivize people to sign up or come back, but not many put in the same effort to keep people in the fold. Delight them by giving them something just for being a customer.”

Here are a couple of ‘don’ts’ in the customer appreciation world:

1. Avoid high-­ticket items

The worst gifts are a combination of high cost to the company and low value to the customer. Don’t assume a high­-priced item will earn loyalty from customers. Not only can you hurt your bottom line, you can turn off customers, too.

“A Stanford study from 2008 found that the more money spent on a gift doesn’t mean it’ll automatically go over well with the recipient,” Carter said. “The thought – or that personal touch – is what will matter more than something lavish.”

2. Skip kitschy gifts

Small businesses often put their name on whatever they can afford. This is cost-

effective and done in bulk, but it adds little value to customers. Never forget why you’re sending customer appreciation gifts. You want to create a bond between your brand and the customer on a personal level.

“Things like stress balls, backscratchers and paper weights are fun to tinker with for about a minute, but they inevitably wind up in the kids’ toy room or the garbage,” Carter said. “Try to go for something that’s going to really draw out good feelings or personal value.”

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