Without them, your business wouldn’t exist. Your livelihood depends on them. They’ve even shown a loyal following, patronizing your business for years. Your customers deserve a round of applause! But they can’t hear that from here and though rounds of applause are nice, nobody being applauded really knows what to do with themselves during those awkward moments.
You’re looking to show appreciation for your customers in a real, tangible, and hopefully not-awkward way. That’s why you are hosting a customer appreciation event. As with all large events, planning from scratch can overwhelm. We’ll help you cover the basics and throw in a few ideas for adding in fun details and unforgettable added touches.
Timing is everything
Sure, you appreciate your customers and want to show them, but we all know that there is another reason for hosting this event—customer acquisition and loyalty. You aren’t really in need of a customer-drawing event during your busy season, the customers are already coming in at that time. Pick a time during your slow season, maybe even right after the busy season to help keep your momentum rolling.
Who to invite?
Well, you are probably shaking your head because the answer is so obvious—you invite your customers. Ok smarty pants, we give you this one. But do you include them all? Do you do your top ten best customers in a smaller dinner party type gathering? In the invitations will you include spouses/partners, kids, other family members, friends (so you don’t make anyone come alone, unless they are trying to get away from their kids/family members and just want an hour to themselves)?
These answers are up to you and will generally depend on the type of business you own, your clientele, your budget, and your vision (parking lot BBQ or ritzy dinner in the VIP section of an upscale restaurant?).
In a prudent business move, you can also invite some of your client’s business partners, consultants, or other affiliates. An appreciation event is always a great time for creating brand awareness, so spread the network around.
What’s your event budget?
Every event has one whether its high or low (if you have a business that can spend money on events with wild abandon and “money is not an object”, call us, we want a job there). For everyone else, an event means prioritizing and divvying out the money that is available. You may even want to do a little pre-budget planning to know how much you might need, factoring in costs of a venue if one is necessary, food and drink, invitations (including any mailing costs) and marketing of the event, any activities and events to make it fun and interesting, and of course, customer gifts and giveaways.
If your business is small, you may feel overwhelmed by that list right now. Wait! Don’t leave! A small budget doesn’t make this un-doable for you. Can you speak to vendors or other non-competing businesses that might want to join forces with you to host the event (business block party?)? Or maybe speak to a local non-profit who would be willing to do the event with you in order to network and get more notice for their cause (also, philanthropic pants look really good on your business no matter how big or small it is).
Choosing your venue wisely
If you don’t need a venue because you can have your event on location, we applaud your savings and urge you to spend the extra money wisely i.e. on fun stuff (like cotton candy and glow sticks! No, we’re not childish you’re childish! *Sticks tongue out*).
Anyway, if you are in need of a venue, there a local restaurant that will work with you to host the event? Do you need a place with more open space for display tables and events? If so, checkout banquet halls and other rentable open area venues.
Will your town allow an appreciation event on thorough-fare sidewalks or parking lots (If so, you may need a permit)?
Bear in mind you don’t simply want enough space for your set up, you want people to have enough space to eat, drink, mingle, participate, etc. and feel comfortable in doing it (we know a big compact crowd has us running in the opposite direction. Wading through a wall of people for a free hot dog? No thanks!).
If you are planning food and drinks for your event (and we’re saying that in most cases you should), consider the logistics. Will you need to bring and set everything up yourself? Will you have it catered (including drinks/alcohol)? If it is in a restaurant, what is included in their pricing?
The little touches
Never get so consumed with the big picture that you forget how important (and fun) the details can be. Is your venue such that you can literally roll out a red carpet for customers to walk down a la Hollywood VIP style? If we’re going awards show style, what about having customized awards for each client (“Most Likely to Help Me Afford a Vacation Home”. Well, maybe not that.).
And of course, it wouldn’t be a proper appreciation without some kind of swag for customers to take home (we’re talking mostly in the form of promotional items, but feel free to get creative). You can also have promotional discounts for attendees (which is ultimately a win for you, too) or hold a raffle (who doesn’t love the thrill of hoping to win something even if only a couple of hours later your soul is crushed because you didn’t win that set of bath bubbles that you know you’ll never use but that doesn’t matter that’s not the point).
Want your customers to remember you appreciating them so much? Obviously. Help their memories by having a photo booth (and maybe some fun props) for guests to enjoy all the while remembering your business every time they look at the pictures on their fridge.
Make it memorable with activities and entertainment
Having quality entertainment (and we’re not talking about your cousin who flunked out of mime school) creates a solidly good experience that adds tons of value to your event. There are plenty of great ways to show your customer appreciation through entertainment so you can tell cousin Good ideas for entertainment include (but don’t feel limited by):
- A clean, all audience-appropriate comedian. Your customers can appreciate a good laugh, creating a positive experience that they are more likely to remember.
- Keynote speaker—someone who can impart words of business or industry wisdom or any other kind of wisdom that might appeal to your audience.
- Magician—before you cry “kid’s birthday party”, keep it together for a moment. Sure, you can get the kid’s birthday party type of magician if you are having a family-oriented event that includes children—it’s amusing for kids and parents. For adults or more professional audiences, an expert illusionist can wow the crowds and give them fodder for conversation over cocktails (How do you think they did that?).
- Hire a band. Doesn’t matter who you are, who is invited, or what your business is, everyone loves live music. A professional and versatile live band (we’re partial to brass bands, ourselves, just saying) can play audience appropriate music that ranges from the classy (light background jazz) to the dance-y (everyone remembers a great dance party). Whatever the level of energy you want, it’s hard to go wrong with live music, especially if you find a band that can engage your crowd.
- Live artist—whether they are creating kooky caricature drawings for your guests, crafting life like paintings, creating soothing sand art, or having a mini sip and paint type lesson, it’s a great way to captivate attentions and imaginations.
We hope that this helps give you a jumping off point for planning your customer appreciation shindig. Though it’s obvious that customer appreciation events are good for solidifying customer relationships and cultivating brand loyalty, it’s important to remember to stay easy on the “selling”, remembering that the event isn’t all about you, it’s about your customers.