Chances are, you say the words “thank you” at least a few times a day. If you work in customer service or support, you probably offer thanks during every interaction — even if it’s just because someone handed you their credit card or gave you their account number.

The phrase “thank you” is more than just a courtesy. It’s an acknowledgment that, even when you’re helping customers, they’re helping you by supporting your business. Without customers, you have no business.

When you understand this simple fact, every interaction and every business decision revolves around the customer. Here’s what you need to know about customer appreciation and how to prioritize it on your team.

What is customer appreciation, and why is it important?

Customer appreciation is the art of continuously expressing gratitude to customers. It’s not a one-off act. Instead, it’s a consistent, generous approach to engagement that conveys the importance of each customer to your success.

Prioritizing customer appreciation is the right thing to do, but it also sparks a positive spiral that can uplift every aspect of your business. Feeling and expressing gratitude has psychological benefits for team members and contributes to an uplifting work environment where people come first.

By appreciating customers every day, businesses reinforce the relationships that translate to higher retention and referral rates.

Some of the most important effects of customer appreciation aren’t necessarily measurable with metrics, though. Thanking customers can make them feel seen, heard and valued. When you appreciate these people from day one, you build positive momentum that will carry you and them forward.

11 memorable and inexpensive customer appreciation ideas

Some business owners think they need to wait until they have the budget or the time to start thinking about customer appreciation ideas. These leaders assume that once they’ve built a bigger community and a stronger company, they can take the time and money to thank the people who helped them get there.

Even though it sounds like that makes sense, it’s not a winning strategy. When you thank your customers from day one, you build momentum that will carry you through the ups and downs of running a business. No matter what your budget or your time constraints, there are creative, enjoyable ways to appreciate your customers every day.

Here are 11 of our favorite customer appreciation ideas.

1. Send a handwritten note

In the days of texting and social media, people tend to only send handwritten notes for serious occasions. Maybe you’ll receive a thank-you note for a wedding gift you gave a friend or a condolence note after losing a family member.

Given that email is the primary way that companies connect with their customers, it isn’t necessarily a meaningful way to say thank you. Instead, take out a pen and write a thoughtful thank-you card. The joy someone feels when they receive happy mail is as tangible as the paper in their hand.

Make sure to get specific about what you’re thankful for and candid about what it means to you as a person. At the end of the day, businesses are groups of people; mentioning how their being a customer makes a difference to you, not just your business or company, is particularly meaningful.

Dear Tina,

I’m so grateful that we could celebrate 10 years of having you as a client. We’re thrilled to work with you every day. Yes, you’re the best client ever, and you make my job a breeze. More importantly, knowing that your non-profit chose us as a partner — and that we can serve your community in a small way — brings a deep sense of meaning to our days here at Help Scout.

Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

Liz

2. Give back to causes close to their home and heart

I run my own copywriting business, and I always try to give my clients a thank-you before the holidays. Last year, instead of a gift, I donated money in each client’s honor to a charity that aligned with their values and vision. It made them even happier than the personal gifts I’ve given in past years.

You can also build out this idea at scale so it’s an integral part of the way you do business. Mascoma Bank, a New Hampshire-based bank, donates 10% of their income to organizations in the local communities that they serve. At Help Scout, we plant a tree through The Nature Conservatory for every new customer.

Doing good in the world is a gift to customers who want to buy your products and services, and they’ll appreciate knowing how far you’ll go to make sure it counts.

3. Enlighten your community every day

The team at Toast, a point of sale and restaurant management software company, quickly realized that restaurant owners had no clear curriculum for managing their businesses.

Given that gap in the market, they launched a new publication called On the Line to guide their customers through the toughest parts of their jobs. Instead of shying away from complex issues like sexism, layoffs, and mental health, they offer well-researched, compelling articles with actionable guidance.

When you’re really good at something, it’s easy to forget just how much wisdom you can share. Educating customers is one of the rewarding ways to say thank you. The more creative you get, the better.

If you’re a dog walker, consider sending out an educational video to your clients with some tips for leash training their dogs. If you run a wine bar, collaborate with a local chef on a cooking class and wine tastings. Don’t undervalue your expertise — your customers will thank you for it.

4. Notice when customers go above and beyond

Have you ever spoken to a customer on the phone who was exceptionally kind, courteous and attentive? No matter how many tough customer issues were lined up in the queue that day, did this one person’s positivity and graciousness press “reset” on your day? Or maybe someone wrote in with such a detailed query that you had all of the information you needed to make it right?

Next time that happens, make sure to thank them for being so kind or diligent. Not only will it help you hold onto the warm and fuzzy feeling, but it will also make their day, too. Here are some things you can say:

  • I know this is an exceptionally frustrating issue for you. You have been kind and patient on this call, and I’m really grateful. I speak to people all day, and when someone makes an effort like this, it makes it much easier to solve the problem.
  • I really appreciate how thoughtful you’ve been. Typing up all of this information must have taken you a significant amount of time. It meant we could cut straight to the solution with no time lost, and I’m grateful. How else can I help?
  • Wow! You’ve been so nice. What a bright spot in my day.

5. Offer a free service during a challenging time

When people began to feel the impact of coronavirus and social distancing, some companies went above and beyond to help people adjust to a difficult new reality. Loom, for example, decided that their shareable video software could help organizations and schools collaborate remotely — and they didn’t want to profit from a global pandemic.

They decided to remove the recording limit on their free plan, more than doubled the length of paid product trials, and cut the price in half, too. Plus, they’re offering their paid plan for free to any students and teachers.

As Help Scout’s CEO Nick Francis says:

“Fear makes people think only about themselves. I get that, and companies should do what it takes to weather a storm. But it’s a really powerful thing when it’s clear that a company is thinking about its customers before itself.”

When people are in a pinch — or in this case, a devastating global calamity — offering more for less is a clear way to say “thank you.”

6. Take the time for face-to-face conversations

Ultimately, people want to be seen and heard. Engaging with them in a conversation over video chat or, better yet, in person is a wonderful way to thank them for supporting your company every day.

Instead of going into the conversation with an agenda, ask to hear more about their experiences with your business — and beyond it. Understanding the landscape of their lives more broadly builds the relationship and ensures that you can help them with greater clarity moving forward.

If your business isn’t anchored in a geographical community, take advantage of work travel. When you’re attending a conference or taking a meeting in a new place, see if any customers are located nearby and make an effort to connect with them in person.

7. Give a thoughtful gift

Yes, tons of companies give their customers swag. But a thoughtful gift is a different kind of thank you. The gift can be related to your company or entirely separate from what you do for your customers on a daily basis.

For example, let’s say you run a coffee shop and one of your best customers popped in before moving out of town. You could hand them a cup of coffee and their favorite pastry — on you. Or, you could buy them a gift certificate to another independent coffee shop in their new city or give them a to-go mug.

But there are other gifts, too, unrelated to your business: You could give them a book from the shop next door about their new city or offer to introduce them to a friend who lives near their new home.

The most important thing about a gift is that it’s personal and aligns with your client’s values. If they’re vegan, don’t give them a leather bag or local honey.

And no matter what you choose, don’t fall into the trap of thinking that the gift’s worth to your customer aligns with the amount of money you poured into it. That’s not the case. The thoughtfulness you put into the gift matters far more than its monetary value.

8. Support their interests, work, and businesses

The best relationships are mutual. If your customers manage their own businesses, ventures, or side gigs, support them any time you can. Buy their products or services and engage with their initiatives as often as possible.

Here are a few ways to say thank you while supporting their work:

  • Partner with customers’ businesses on co-marketing campaigns.
  • Highlight their work on social media or your blog.
  • Ask a customer to teach a workshop for your team.
  • Support a cause that they champion.
  • Refer people to customers’ businesses.
  • Host a virtual or in-person event together.
  • Hire a customer for a position at your business.

Your customers show up for you every day, and there’s nothing they’ll appreciate more than you showing up for them and their work.

9. Bend the rules for a customer

When I worked for an independent paper shop, there were two closing times: the official time we closed and the time when the last customer left the shop. Sometimes, a customer would knock on the door with a pained face just as I started to lock the door at the end of a day. They were usually looking for a gift or a birthday card.

Bending the rules for a customer and staying open for a few minutes longer was the right thing to do. It only took five minutes, but it made the difference for that person.

Customer-focused businesses give their team members the leeway to use their best judgment in helping customers out, even if it veers from formal policy. Maybe someone asked for a refund a day too late or a customer missed an appointment because their family member was in the hospital. It’s in these moments you can say “Thank you for your business” by making an exception to the rule.

10. Give someone an unexpected upgrade

Imagine that you’ve taken yourself on a solo trip. It’s not your honeymoon or a celebratory vacation, just a long weekend for a little time away. You step up to the check-in desk at your hotel and someone hands you a glass of champagne and a free upgrade! Are you excited, or what?

Little do you know, the hotel gives a random customer an upgrade every day — and today is your lucky day.

The best part of giving customers an upgrade is that it knocks people off their feet, and it doesn’t cost much. A hotel is not losing out, for example, by making sure someone enjoys a top-notch experience if their best suite is still available.

Be generous about giving upgrades, no matter what business you’re in. Offer the nicest table in a restaurant to one of your regulars or give a software upgrade to a long-time customer.

11. Host a customer appreciation week

For the ultimate thank you, plan a week that’s just about your customers. Pool together some of these ideas and ask your team which ones they like best. You could even crowdsource by asking customers, “How can we thank you? How can we show that we appreciate you?” They may have ideas that are even more creative than your own.

The best part of transforming their ideas into a customer appreciation week is that it can become an annual event. People on your team and in your community will look forward to it every year, even and especially as you change or evolve some of the celebrations.

If you’re doubtful about how happy it will make your customers, just think about how excited people get for Ben & Jerry’s Free Cone Day.

Developing a customer appreciation strategy

Now that you have a bunch of ideas on how to thank your customers, you’re ready to develop a more formal customer appreciation strategy.

Sit down with your team and talk through all the ways that you can say thank you on a daily basis. Work out a budget for any gifts you may give, examples for team members, and a plan for a customer appreciation week.

You’ll want to formalize guidelines around each of the customer appreciation ideas you’re prioritizing while giving team members the flexibility to adapt to every new situation. Start small. As you continue to say thank you, you can start allocating more time than ever to delighting customers.

Customer appreciation quotes

As you find ways to prioritize customer appreciation, we hope you find inspiration in the following pieces of wisdom from leaders of all stripes that speak to the importance of valuing customers, expressing gratitude, and showing goodwill:

“We’re living in what I like to call the ‘Thank You Economy,’ because only the companies that can figure out how to mind their manners in a very old-fashioned way — and do it authentically — are going to have a prayer of competing.” – Gary Vaynerchuk

“A thousand words will not leave so deep an impression as one deed.” – Henrik Ibsen

“Politeness goes far, yet costs nothing.” – Samuel Smiles

“People will forget what you said. They will forget what you did. But they will never forget how you made them feel.” – Maya Angelou

“The magic formula that successful businesses have discovered is to treat customers like guests and employees like people.” – Tom Peters

“Your company’s most valuable asset is how it is known to customers.” – Brian Tracy

“You must earn the right to continued relationships with customers.” – Jeanne Bliss

“Goodwill is the only asset that competition cannot undersell or destroy.” – Marshall Field

Elizabeth Wellington

Elizabeth Wellington

Liz writes about business, creativity and making meaningful work. Say hello on Twitter or through her website.