Don’t underestimate the impact of a good customer appreciation event. Customers are your livelihood and they expect some type of token for their efforts. A customer appreciation event is a “one to many” event where you can thank everyone at one time, and that is a beautiful thing. Remember though, “everyone” is not just the guy that is signing the purchase orders. Don’t forget to include the people that supported you along the way.
The most important thing to remember when hosting this type of event is, if you aren’t going to do it right, don’t do it at all. Be creative, and work hard to be sure your event is successful and remembered by all. A good customer appreciation event will bring you additional sales, guaranteed.
FIRST THINGS FIRST, KNOW YOUR BUDGET
Don’t waste your time scheming and planning until you have a budget commitment from your management. Once you have it, go back and always, always, ask for more. With a good preliminary plan, a vision, and your sales hat on, you can usually scrape up a few more dollars.
If your budget is not where you would like it, reach out to your partners for funding. You can ask them for a sponsorship fee in return for some type of recognition or pay to attend the event. If they choose to attend, don’t forget the “no selling during the event” discussion. A simple reminder that this is your event is usually warranted.
Consider dividing the budget into multiple events to allow for more spend on high value customer segments. Don’t forget the little guys.
WHO, WHAT, WHERE, AND WHY – WHO
Create a preliminary invitation list early on. Based on final planning and budget, you will probably have to remove, or even add invitees. Review the list to be sure the people coming add to the “positive event” feel. In other words, you may be better off not inviting a disgruntled customer, but thanking that person outside of your event.
Don’t forget to invite people from your own company that can positively impact your event. Any one that is “customer facing” such as service, support internal sales folks, or high level management (it always makes a great impression to have the CEO).
Consider inviting ”hot” prospects if there is room. This is a great way to help close a pending deal. If the prospect sees a room full of happy customers, this will only help your cause. One or two at the max, as your customers may catch on. Identify those prospects with an 80% or better close rate.
WHO. WHAT, WHERE, AND WHY – WHAT
Determine the kind of event you will be hosting. Put on your creative hat, and go where no man has gone before! Be sure to think about what your customer base would like to do as opposed to what you might like to do. This is a big mistake people make. Reach out to your top customers in advance and ask them if they have any suggestions. This not only makes them feel appreciated, but gives you one more customer touch point.
Determine what time your event will take place either in the evening, or during the work day. There are many that refuse to do anything after work based on family commitments. We have seen great success with afternoon events. This not only accommodates the people with families, but if there are those that would like to continue on through the night, they can! Also, we have found that Thursdays and Fridays work well for these types of events, as internal meetings start slowing down towards the end of the work week.
Always allocate time for introductions, and to talk about what is new at your company, new products, and new direction. Make it educational, but take your sales hat off. Never, have a product demonstration during an appreciation event. Your customer is there to have fun, not to be sold to.
Consider doing some type of training, keynote speaker, or something the customer can walk away with and use to be a better business person. There are some that will come to an educational event before a fun event. It is a nice touch, and well appreciated. If your budget doesn’t allow you to pay for someone, consider your most innovative customer and have them do a small presentation on what they have done with your product. Once again, no selling.
Turning a team building event into a customer appreciation event can lend to more face time with your clients. An example of this is a group that we work with that hosts high tech treasure hunts. We divide the teams up to five or six with the one representative from the host company on each team. We also recommend they place one of their top customers on each team to mingle with new customers. In the case of the high tech treasure hunt, each person is given a Garmin GPS, and a digital camera. The event takes place over a two to three hour time span, and in the end there is a awards dinner where footage of the event is shown. It is always a great success.
If you are going to host a standard event such as a golf tournament, do something creative like a “hole in one” contest. In the case of the example above, make your treasure hunt points be trivia about the benefits of your product. There are a million things you can do to make your event more memorable. A good event planner, or even a marketing person can be a creative resource to help you in this area.
WHO. WHAT, WHERE, AND WHY – WHERE
When selecting your venue, make it exciting, innovative, and high class. Customers know when you are doing things on the cheap, and it is somewhat of an insult. Make sure your venue is close to your customers, and always take into consideration traffic patterns. If your event is not local, be sure the transportation you provide is nice, and reliable.
Another important thing to consider when selecting a venue is the noise factor. If your customers can not hear you, or the person across the table, chances are your event will be a flop.
If you plan on taking your clients to a sporting event or concert, consider doing an event, before the event. Face time is important. There are many wonderful restaurants that have private dining rooms. Find one close to the event venue and host a dinner or cocktail hour. Another option is to take everyone to the event on a bus, and set up a tailgate type party prior to the event. This idea also saves your customers the cost and trouble of parking.
WHO. WHAT, WHERE, AND WHY – WHY
You are having your customer appreciation event to thank anyone that has helped you grow your revenues. Therefore, make sure you acknowledge each and every person. This can be done in the beginning of the event by introducing each person, and if applicable saying a word or two about them. Roasting your clients is great fun too, so during the year think about something funny you might say. Pick your words wisely.
How many times have you received what we refer to as a “times romany” email invitation to some type of an event. If you are trying to create excitement around your event, this is not the way to do it. Invest a couple of hundred dollars of your budget, and have a designer put something together for you. If that isn’t something that fits your budget, use some of the invitation sites on the web to create a graphical invitation. Many of these invitations have registrations tools on the back end so you can track who is coming to your event. One “gotcha”, with these types of online invitations, they sometimes end up as junk email. If you aren’t hearing from your people, send them a follow on email from your company email address asking them if they have received the invitation and if not, to check their junk email box.
No matter what format you use, always be sure to include an RSVP, and one week prior to the event, call all participants with a reminder. Many people have things come up at the last minute and forget to decline, or don’t feel that a formal decline it is necessary. This call will help you hone in on your final participant numbers.
SWAG (PROMOTIONAL ITEMS)
Do not have a customer event without a customer appreciation gift, even better that your company name or event branding be on the item. Put your creative hat on again and look for new items. New promotional items come out everyday. Consider something your customers will use or look at every day. The items should be the highest quality available. Flimsy tee shirts or substandard pens are absolute “no-no’s”, everyone has plenty of those. Bottom line, if you are going to give away cheap stuff, you are better off giving nothing at all. Also, be sure you are not giving away swag that was distributed by your company at past eventsand that everyone at the event receives the same gift.
Another idea is to take the budget you have dedicated to swag and donate it to a worthy organization. Annouce at the beginning of the event that you have done so and you will be suprised how thankful you guests will be. Tie the organization you have donated to your event if possible.
Customer appreciation events are important events and should be held every year. Your customers work hard, and could use a break. Plan an event they will remember, and look forward to the following year. You will be surprised at the return on your investment.