How to Thank Customers without Spending Too Much

By Tom Harnish on 17 June 2011 (Updated 7 July 2011) 0 comments
Photo: KLH49

After years of buying cars, I decided for the first time that a lease would fit my circumstances better. Picking the car I wanted with the leasing specialist’s help was more what I would call a "consultative sell" than the adversarial process I was used to, which was a nice change. When a basket of fruit arrived at my company’s reception desk the next day, I was flabbergasted…and delighted. For that matter, so were a lot of other people in the office. I'm sure that simple "thank you" has repaid the car dealer many times over.

But what if you’re in a business with narrow margins, or what if in these tough economic times you simply can’t afford to increase your costs with an out-of-pocket "thank you"?

Consider a Twist on the Host-Beneficiary Relationship

Usually forming a "host-beneficiary" relationship involves a start-up company (the beneficiary) partnering with an established business (the host) who caters to a similar target audience. The start-up promotes itself to the established company’s clientele through a special offer presented as a gift (such as a basket of fruit) from the host business (such as a car dealership), and they both benefit. The start-up has instant access to a qualified customer base, and the host can reward customers without any cost.

But there’s nothing that requires the beneficiary to be a start-up, or, for that matter, there’s nothing that says a start-up has to initiate the relationship. With a little effort your established business can gain appreciation, respect, loyalty, and cashflow, while your partner gains qualified prospects, credibility, and … cashflow. It’s a win-win. Actually, win-win-win, because your customer benefits, too.

Here are some tips on how to find a partner, how to set up the relationship, plus some common obstacles and advice about how to overcome them.

Find a Partner

  1. The first step is to determine which part of your business you want to promote. You could (and should) say "thank you" to anyone who walks through your door. But in terms of a thank you that could cost you money, those should be based on how you want to drive your product/market mix. For example, you may want to encourage the sale of some products or services more than others, or you may want a different "thank you" for different products.
  2. Next, determine what other businesses have a customer base similar to your own. If you run a printing business you might want to partner with a computer repair company. A hair salon might partner with the jewelry store next door. A luxury car dealership might partner with a country club.
  3. Third, you need to develop an offer that will work for you both – something with a high perceived value but low cost. The printer might say "thank you" to a customer with two hours of free virus detection and removal. The hair salon might offer their customers free jewelry cleaning. The car dealer might offer free time on the country club's driving range.

Establish a Relationship

  1. Selling the idea to prospective partners is the next step. You need to emphasize that you’re offering them a way to acquire qualified customers with lifetime value at minimum cost, that there is no risk of lost income because you don’t sell competing products, and that you offer them implied credibility. And you obviously want to emphasize that you’re open to alternatives since they’re in a better position to know what works for them. Make it clear that you’re willing to start with something simple, and learn together. And above all, make it something fun.
  2. Finally you need to define who’s going to be responsible for what, what kind of a schedule is realistic, how you’re both going to measure success, and what your respective exit triggers and strategies will be.

Overcome the Obstacles

  1. Fear is perhaps the greatest obstacle to a successful host-beneficiary relationship. The beneficiary may worry that, as the host, you’ve ensured the customers will have less to spend when they visit. Or they may worry that you may somehow want to take away their existing customers. The solution, of course, is to identify and deal with such concerns up front, and openly collaborate on handling others that may crop up during the relationship.
  2. Greed is another problem that could become an issue. Perceived differences in the benefit may make a partner reluctant. “Why should I give away a free picture frame even if it only cost me six bucks, when they took in $200 printing the photo enlargement?” The solution is to prevent this obstacle form becoming an issue, by making sure both parties are not only comfortable with the relationship to begin with, but that both are willing to adjust as the strategy develops – basic management, in other words.
  3. Control in any relationship can be an issue. How are customer lists handled? Who decides how the offer is presented? The solution is to focus on what’s good for the customer first, make sure you both stay independent – literally ‘not dependent’, and make sure that the whole project is fair and equitable and that it really is a win-win-win.

Finally, a word of caution. Saying "thank you" through a host-beneficiary relationship is a great way to build customer loyalty and repeat business without adding additional expense. But don’t use it to make up for deficiencies in product or customer service. Saying "thank you" isn’t the same as saying "I’m sorry".

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