Illustration by Bronwyn Gruet
Illustration by Bronwyn Gruet

Customer Appreciation Ideas: 17 Ways to Thank Customers

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?

Customer appreciation is the art of expressing gratitude to customers, making them feel seen, heard, and valued. When you show customers your appreciation, you build positive momentum that will carry you both forward.

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.

17 customer appreciation ideas

Some business owners think they need to wait until they have the budget or the time to start thinking about ways to thank their customers. 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.

Consider adopting on of these 17 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!
Liz

2. Give back to causes close to customers

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.

12. Personalize your service

In a Reddit thread about customer service, a user shared how their restaurant often takes the time to ask customers a little bit about themselves before serving them. They then prepare a custom dessert plate based off of the customer’s interests or anything notable about them.

When a customer recently came in wearing a Navy SEALs hat, this plate was made:

Navy Seal Plate

The customer was so happy about it that he wrote the restaurant a letter.

In another instance, a customer had been talking about a recent Cubs game and was fully clothed in Cubs gear, so this plate was created just for him:

Cub Fan Plate

You can find a full album of these personalized dessert plates right here. It’s easy to see why this business is doing well, and it goes to show that it doesn’t take much to create a great experience that gets customers talking!

13. Check in with customers

Following up with new customers can be a great help for navigating the onboarding process. But there are a lot more creative ways to follow up with customers than a simple auto-responder email.

In this example from Bark Park, a doggy daycare center, employees write an update card for customers that details how their dog has been doing that week, and the reports are written from the dog’s perspective!

Doggie Report Card

This creative take on checking in with customers is absolutely perfect for this sort of business. I know a lot of people who care for their dogs like parents care for their children, so getting a card like puts their minds at ease and makes the business stand out in a unique way.

14. Sweat the small stuff

Nordstrom’s stellar service reputation is one case study where the reality lives up to the hype. From their infamous employee handbook to the celebrated tales of the staff’s service overtures, it is clear Nordstrom is a company that prides itself on loving customers.

One story in particular demonstrates their commitment to excellence and also serves as a reminder of the power of sweating the small stuff.

When a woman in the store lost the diamond from her wedding ring, she became distraught and began crawling around on the ground looking for the ring. A Nordstrom employee saw her crawling under the clothing racks. Once he found out what was wrong, he immediately got on his hands and knees and joined the search!

When the duo came up empty-handed in the search for the ring, the employee asked for assistance from two building service workers. Together, they sifted through vacuum bags until they found the diamond mixed in with dust and dirt.

Things get lost in department stores all the time. The easy-way-out answer to this situation would have been, “We’ll contact you if we find it.” But not at Nordstrom — their employees know that sweating the small stuff goes a long way.

15. Don’t let red tape get in the way

Zappos is a company that is connected to some legendary stories of amazing service. One story about an employee who took service to the next level has some interesting lessons to teach businesses about the dangers of red tape.

A customer was shopping for shoes for her elderly mother. Due to her medical condition, her mother had very sensitive feet and was often in pain when wearing hard-soled shoes. The customer bought six pairs of shoes from Zappos, and her mother tried them on and found two that she could bear to wear for long periods of time.

When it was time for her mother to return the other four pairs, she called Zappos and began this amazing tale of kindness: “Being a friendly Midwesterner, one thing led to another, and before she knew it she had a long, warm conversation with the Zappos employee.”

In talking with the employee, this elderly woman discovered that the person on the other end of the line could readily relate to her plight; the employee’s father had suffered from similar foot problems due to diabetes.

The employee ended the conversation by saying that she would pray for the woman to feel better, but the story doesn’t end there:

“My mom called me to relay the news, and I could hear the smile on her face from 600 miles away. She said that the lovely Zappos person had sent her an enormous bouquet of lilies and roses to let her know she was thinking of her.

My sister emailed the company to thank Zappos for taking such good care of my Mom. Two days later, my mom, sister, and I were contacted and told we are now ‘Zappos VIP Members,’ which entitles us to free expedited shipping on all our orders.”

Zappos’ insistence on building a company of sincere and reactive employees is largely the reason they are so beloved by customers.

The icing on the cake? The customer closed out her praise for Zappos with this message:

My sister vows to buy every pair of shoes, from now on, from Zappos.

16. Recognize unique opportunities

This might seem like strange advice at first, but when it comes to building reciprocity with customers and a reputation for exceptional customer service for your business, the key element is surprise.

One story that paints a clear picture of how the surprise factor works actually comes from a big business — Samsung.

On their Facebook page, a longtime customer posted a joke sketch of a dinosaur and claimed that he wanted to have a custom case made of the drawing.

Facebook Samsung Post

Although it took some prodding, Samsung Canada recognized an opportunity here and sent him a personalized case for the new Galaxy S3!

Personalized Samsung Case

A little positive press is always a good thing. It only takes an eye for unique opportunities to make a customer’s day with an unusual act of service.

17. Make things right

In another excellent example of memorable service, game developer Bungie Studios raised the bar for their willingness to take care of their fans.

The story begins with a distraught father whose son had to receive liver transplant surgery around the holidays.

Father and Son

Since being in the hospital left his son unable to play the newest release of his favorite video game franchise, Halo, his dad reached out to Bungie. The response he received from the company went far beyond what anyone expected!

First, the entire Bungie team signed and sent a card with get-well wishes:

Card from Bungie Studios

To make up for missing out on playing Halo, the team built him a custom helmet based off of the main character and sent it along with shirts, toys and custom art from the game’s designers:

Bungie Story Photos

His father later posted a thank you thread and a collection of images on Christmas day, which was when Bungie visited his son in the hospital and brought the gifts:

“He was absolutely shocked when he saw the custom helmet from Halo Reach! Bungie, you have played a huge part in making this smile! My family can’t thank you enough!”

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 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
"People will forget what you said. They will forget what you did. But they will never forget how you made them feel." – Maya Angelou
Elizabeth Wellington
Elizabeth Wellington

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

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