A little appreciation goes a long way

In a world full of ordinary companies, people, and organizations, how does one stand out and become extraordinary? How does a business not just attract and bring in customers, but retain them for life? How do businesses become so extraordinary that the customer would never consider using another company? How does a non-profit continue to receive loyal donations and support from its donors and supporters? How does one continue to have long-lasting, deep and thriving personal and professional relationships?

I believe the answer is the same for relationships across the entire spectrum, be they personal- or business-related. The key to successful relationships of any kind is connection and appreciation.

Many customers have short memories

I have owned M&E Painting for almost seven years, and in that time, I have met with literally thousands of people with the purpose of earning business. One of my favorite conversation starters is a simple query: “Tell me about your last painter." Every customer has a story, and this opens up the door to share the inevitable story that gives me insight into how the last paint job went, It also reveals the customer's perception of the industry in general and what the motivation is for using M&E.

When someone tells me that the last guys did a great job, it always makes me wonder why that person is asking around for quotes. “If the last guys did a good job, why did you call us for a quote?" Almost across the board, the answer is exactly the same: They just never heard from their painter again, and oftentimes, they simply can't remember the painting company's name. Selling and providing a great product is not enough. People will probably stop using your company if they are indifferent, and certainly if they don't remember you because you failed to stay in touch.

Make a worthwhile investment

It might cost M&E Painting $150 to earn the business of a new customer, but it only costs $5 to buy him a cup of coffee, or even $40 to send tickets to a show. The point being that the initial investment of $150 to gain a customer is an unwise one if you're going to turn around and lose him by not investing a fraction of that initial amount in order to keep him. When I have to replace him with another client, the economics become even more obvious. I'll have to spend another $150.

I recently sent a birthday card and a box of delicious brownies to one of our favorite customers, and she responded with a phone call. She was so excited that we had remembered her special day and taken the time to send a card and gift. She marveled that even her own mother had forgotten, but we had not. We have won a great deal with that little bit of effort to connect and appreciate her as a human and a customer. We have gained personal satisfaction in delighting another person, we have most probably secured that she will be a customer again, and we have probably created a story she will tell others and a referral she will willingly give to anyone who mentions they need a painter.

Non-profits are no different

I am a regular donor to my alma mater, Colorado State University. I have a passion for the study abroad program and specifically for the country of Spain. My own study abroad experience in Spain through CSU left me with a desire to help other students experience the same.

I founded the Matthew Shoup Spain Study Abroad Endowed Scholarship in 2007. From the beginning, I was so excited and self-motivated about the cause that I never realized that the department at CSU responsible for keeping me posted and inspired as a donor was not doing its job. Another department more closely tied to the students receiving the award was picking up the slack. As I became more aware of how the departments compete for scholarship and donor revenue, I was shocked to learn that the department receiving the “credit" for my donations was not the one going out of the way to thank and serve me.

I immediately asked that my scholarship dollars be moved to the appreciative department. Before I had even offered, they were doing the job the other department should have been doing—introducing me to the recipients of the scholarship and letting me be a part of the process. The cold, hard fact? For the cost of one phone call, a $3 cup of coffee and 30 minutes of time given with sincere thanks and appreciation, this department made a $25,000 impact on their bottom line, made me feel amazing and appreciated, and will continue to help more and more students study abroad.

Stay dedicated

It is so simple. People are made to connect, and nothing makes a person feel better than to be recognized and appreciated by another person. Need a few more practical ideas for making someone feel special? Other than the things mentioned above, how about sending your customer to dinner at their favorite restaurant, send their kid a cool gift, or pay for a massage for them? This works the same for employees, friends and family as well. Always be aware of specific things you can do to appreciate that person. You may not see an immediate return of revenue from the effort of spreading appreciation, but as you continue to do this, you will receive back what you give out many times over.

Think about five to ten people with whom you communicate and how deep your appreciation runs. Always keep in mind that these are the people who put food on your table. Make a list, then make a call, send a card, and spread that appreciation to these people in your life.

Matt Shoup founded M&E Painting in March 2005—using the last $100 to his name—and has grown it into a multimillion dollar, award-winning brand and a household name in Northern Colorado. Shoup then founded Shoup Consulting in 2009 with one mission: to inspire entrepreneurs. Matt released his first book, Become an Award-Winning Company: Seven Simple Steps to Unlock the Million-dollar Secret Every Entrepreneur Needs to Know, in December 2011 (Amazon link).