The Role of Gratitude in Customer Experience

Giorgina Gottlieb | December 14, 2018

The word "danke" is hand-written on a piece of notebook paper.

When you think of the holiday season, what comes to mind? Gifts? Twinkling lights? Peppermint hot chocolate? While those are all delightful, the most important element of any holiday celebration is, of course, the human element.

Author Donald Westlake wrote, “As we struggle with shopping lists and invitations, compounded by December’s bad weather, it is good to be reminded that there are people in our lives who are worth this aggravation, and people to whom we are worth the same.”

Whether baking cookies, going ice skating, or singing carols, the holidays offer a wealth of options for spending quality time with family and friends. They’re also the perfect opportunity to take a step back to reflect on and show appreciation for your loved ones.

Quote from John F. Kennedy: "We must find time to stop and thank the people who make a difference in our lives."
Image source: PATLive

‘Tis the Season for Companies to Express Gratitude

Just as the holiday season provides individuals the opportunity to give thanks for those who enrich their lives, it also offers businesses the chance to express gratitude for the most important people in their “lives.”

I’m talking about customers, of course. A company’s success depends on a variety of components, including its mission and the products or services it offers. But without customers, it’s all for naught.

One of the best quotes on the importance of customers I’ve ever seen is attributed to Indian civil rights leader Mahatma Gandhi.

Quote from Mahatma Gandhi: "A customer is the most important visitor on our premises."
Image source: FineArtAmerica

Gandhi is right: customers are doing businesses a favor by purchasing a company’s products or services, and they deserve to be treated accordingly.

The Basics of Customer Appreciation

As obvious as it sounds, the starting point for successful customer appreciation is to genuinely appreciate your customers. This is not a case of fake it ‘til you make it. You can say “we’re thankful for you” until you’re blue in the face. But if the words are hollow, customers will see right through them.

On nearly all U.S. airlines, after the plane has landed, a flight attendant gets on the mic and says something like, “Thank you for flying with [insert name of airline]. We know you have many options for air travel, and we appreciate you choosing us.”

As a passenger, how do those words make you feel? The answer almost certainly depends upon the actual service you received during the flight.

If you were greeted with a smile, offered help with overhead luggage storage, and received an extra pack of peanuts, you probably felt pretty appreciated during the flight. Thus, the airlines’ “thank you” message upon landing would ring true.

If, on the other hand, a flight attendant stood silently by as you struggled with lifting your luggage into the overhead bin or spilled a drink on you when serving and didn’t even offer an apology, you likely felt a pretty significant lack of appreciation. Thus, the “thank you” message at the end of the flight would fall flat.

The lesson? When it comes to customer appreciation, actions really do speak louder than words.

Quote from William George Jordan: "Gratitude is thankfulness expressed in action."
Image source: Quotefancy

Thankfulness in Action

Beyond saying “thank you” and backing up those words with excellent service provided by frontline agents, what can companies do to show customer gratitude?

  • Implement a compelling loyalty and rewards program
  • Establish a customer-focused mindset across the entire organization

Customer Loyalty and Rewards Programs

Customer loyalty and rewards programs date back to the 1980s when American Airlines launched the first frequent flyer promotion. Since then, loyalty programs have largely become synonymous with “a little punch card to tally your purchases so you could eventually be awarded with a free coffee, car wash or sandwich.”

But in today’s environment, where customers have greater access to information and ability to switch to a competitor than ever before, a punch card just isn’t going to cut it.

“Savvy and strategic companies are now looking beyond these rewards programs to delight, create and retain loyal customers,” says Howard Schneider, a career veteran in “the loyalty marketing space.” And to do so, companies must recognize that loyalty is a two-way street.

Research shows that two-thirds of marketers think the purpose of loyalty programs is for customers to show their loyalty to brands, whereas three-quarters of consumers think these programs are a way for brands to show their loyalty to customers.

“What would the world look like if brands were loyal to their customers?” asks Mark Bonchek, founder and CEO of Shift Thinking. “Credit card companies would waive late fees for customers who were on vacation when the payment was due. Retailers would reward shoppers who don’t spend a lot, but are active on social media as brand advocates.”

Schneider sums it up: “Customers will remember their experience with a brand long after they’ve forgotten a discount.”

Quote from Maya Angelou: "People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel."
Image source: Quotefancy

Company-Wide Customer Mindset

That said, although loyalty and rewards programs can have a significant impact on how appreciated your customers feel, they are insufficient for sustained customer gratitude.

“It’s tempting to think that gratitude can be generated by doing nice things for your customers,” explains the Harvard Business Review. “It’s a good start, as Starbucks has demonstrated with the success of its own loyalty program … but customers can become conditioned or easily wooed by someone else with nicer gifts.”

The key to creating long-lasting customer gratitude is to “discover and foster a shared purpose with your customers, and to help them share that purpose with others.” But before you can establish a shared purpose with your customers, you must first ensure that everyone within your organization is unified around a common purpose. And to do that, you need to get all departments to adopt a customer-focused mindset.

As renowned customer service expert Shep Hyken writes, “One of the most important ways to improve customer service is to make sure that everyone in an organization (company) is in alignment with the customer service and/or experience vision … By getting everyone to know and understand your customer service vision, and showing … how everyone, even as individuals, impact the customer’s experience, you can begin to train everyone to your vision.”

Actionable Advice on CX Alignment

Want to learn more about how to get everyone in your organization on the same page when it comes to CX? We explored this very topic in a webinar co-hosted with the Technology Services Industry Association (TSIA) on How to Align Customer Experience Across Your Company to Achieve Business Success.

Also, for advice on how to achieve closer alignment between customer support and other departments across your company, be sure to download your free copy of our eBook titled The Value of Customer Support Across Your Organization.

Don’t Forget Your Customer Support and Success Teams

One final note on the topic of gratitude: As essential as it is to express thankfulness for your customers, don’t forget to also show appreciation for those who work day-in and day-out on the frontlines of customer support and success.

At Squelch, we believe these customer-facing agents are heroes and should be celebrated as such. That’s why we decided to create a customer hero spotlight series, a new blog feature that will recognize stellar support and success professionals that go above and beyond the call of duty. 

To acknowledge a customer hero you know or nominate yourself for consideration, please send an email containing the agent’s name, photo, employer, and a brief example of their heroic efforts to