What Gifts Do Customers (People) Really Appreciate?

December 7, 2015

Posted by: Mitch Ballard

What Gifts Do Customers (People) Really Appreciate?

As we enter this holiday season, it makes sense to pause for a moment and think about what gifts do our customers want? And more importantly, what’s the point of giving them anything?

On a basic level, we give gifts because we’re supposed to. On certain occasions — birthdays, anniversaries, dinner parties, the end of the year — it’s customary.

Underlying that custom is an important purpose: appreciation. We give people gifts to show them that we are grateful for them, and value the role they play in our lives and our business.

But here’s a common misconception: the bigger, more valuable the gift, the more it expresses our appreciation. I know people who’ve received huge stock grants who feel severely under-appreciated.

This is because gifts don’t express appreciation, people do. And when people don’t express it, neither do their gifts.

The gifts I have received that have meant so much to me are more about the words of appreciation expressed by coworkers, customers and friends for small acts of kindness I may have shown. And such acts were not something forced out of expecting something back—they were natural, out of sincere appreciation of the individual as a person.

Just as he/she is. There is no more powerful way to acknowledge others than to be thankful for them just as they are.

And yet we almost never do this. Especially in a corporate setting where we often ask people to do something—and where we value them for what they can do for us and for the company.

Think of our corporate end of the year rituals: performance reviews, holiday parties, and, sometimes, if we’re lucky, bonuses.

Performance reviews are supposed to identify our strengths, and the best reviewers spend most of their time dwelling on strengths. But it’s not a review unless we also look at weaknesses, areas “to develop,” places where we fall short. In other words, immediately after we tell people how great they are, we tell them how they aren’t good enough.

Holiday parties usually include a speech by the CEO or other leader thanking people for their hard work over the year and encouraging them to continue working hard over the next year. It’s an important ritual but it’s impersonal, given to the entire company or department at once. And it’s typically about what we’ve been able to accomplish, not about who we are. People don’t feel individually recognized.

And bonuses are a business deal, based not on appreciating us for who we are, but on compensating us for what we achieved, often delivered with no ceremony and no clearly expressed appreciation. The huge stock grants that left people under-appreciated? They were, literally, placed on people’s empty chairs overnight. No note. No conversation. Just a piece of paper left on a chair, or a handwritten note in a mailbox.

I’m not suggesting these rituals aren’t important. People work together in organizations in order to accomplish things so it makes sense that our organizational rituals appreciate people for accomplishments and for increasing their ability to accomplish more things in the future.

But I’d like to suggest an additional way to appreciate the people around us. A way that costs nothing and feels great to everyone involved: in a handwritten note, tell them why you appreciate them.

Not for what they do for you. Not for what they help you accomplish. Not even for what they accomplish themselves. Just for being who they are.

If you’re hesitant — maybe you think it’s too touchy-feely, too sappy — just think about what it would feel like to receive that type of note from the people around you.

Here’s the hard part: don’t be stingy.

You should do this even for people about whom you feel conflicted. Perhaps you don’t like everything about them. Maybe you don’t always appreciate who they are.

That’s OK. This isn’t a performance review. You don’t have to address everything about each client. This is a gift. There’s no reason to hoard your appreciation; it’s unlimited in supply. Just think about what you do appreciate about people and describe that part. Let them know what about them makes you smile. What you admire. What makes them special to you.

Then hand them your notes and thank them, individually, for working with you. Or, if you’re feeling bashful, just leave the notes on their mailboxes overnight; there’s no risk they’ll open them and feel under-appreciated.

It’s like Santa Claus left a special note that warmed their heart. Try it, they’ll like it and they will remember you for it.

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