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O'Neill: The joys of surprise and delight

By Gregg O’Neill

While not a new concept, “surprise and delight” gifting programs - the concept of sending certain customers or employees an unsolicited gift - is quickly gaining momentum. Recognizing a person as “special” has long lasting benefits, and can be particularly useful when used in coordination with a loyalty program. A well-conceived gifting program keeps your employees happy and engaged, and your brand top of mind with your best customers. 

Perhaps the best and most unique way to execute a gifting program is through front line employees who have direct customer contact. Allowing them to send a gift of their choosing based on a particular customer interaction can create an unbreakable bond between the employee and your brand. Empowered employees create a more meaningful workplace environment, and become brand advocates who create a positive view of the company.

Here’s a view of the many ways companies can use surprise-and-delight tactics to reinforce specific parameters of behavior in both customers and employees. These tactics help to evolve customer relationships from transactional to relationships based on emotional brand advocacy:

Emotional reinforcement:

Loyalty program members are generally your best customers, participants in long-term relationships that can last for years. While technology has evolved dramatically to drive contact and engagement strategies, consumers want to see more than just points and miles as measure of their value to your brand. They want to feel special - and a personalized monthly statement alone won’t suffice.

For example: let’s say an airline frequent-flyer program member books a weekend trip to Portland, OR - one of the top micro-brew cities in the US. Let’s also say that, before the trip, the airline sends that member four specialty beer mugs. The member might not take the mugs on the trip - but will enjoy a beer in one of those mugs on the first weekend back. This simple gift provides a priceless physical reinforcement of the emotional memory that trip.

Behavioral reinforcement:

This gifting model reinforces desired profitable customer behavior: when a customer signs up for additional service, purchases a new product, or engages in other desired behavior, the brand sends an unexpected gift. The element of surprise creates a stronger brand bond and even encourages social sharing.

Two timely examples: a cable company that sends a related gift to customers who sign up for a new movie service or gaming package, or an employee who completes an activity in a corporate wellness program and receives a logoed water bottle or a Fitbit from their company. In both cases, the emotional reaction triggered by this physical gift reinforces the behavior – and increases the chance that the customer or employee will repeat it in future interactions.

Customer experience reinforcement:

An increasingly popular gifting tactic grants your call center associates the freedom to send a gift to a customer for whom they have just resolved a customer service issue. This tactic provides a dual benefit: first, the customer receives a specific gift relevant to the service situation resolved during the call, thereby reinforcing the positive resolution of the service issue; second, granting your customer service associate the freedom to initiate the gifting tactic improves employee satisfaction and creates a stronger advocate for your brand.

Many companies will add a personalized note card from the associate and packaging branded with your corporate logo or colors. To be most effective, these associate gifting programs should be unscripted -  and also managed to a budget.

Sales channel reinforcement:

You can also provide a gifting budget to frontline sales associates who engage in significant sales contact or otherwise regularly maintain your customer relationships. These programs are budget-specific, and are usually tied to an agent’s volume or production. An insurance agent who manages multiple policies for a family and then procures the annual renewal, for example, might follow that renewal confirmation with a relevant, meaningful gift. The gift reinforces the retention episode while also creating word-of-mouth advocacy.

Employee reinforcement:

Successful companies recognize employees as your best brand ambassadors. Treating them the way your treat your best customers is a significant gesture that pays demonstrable dividends. Employee recognition programs sound intuitive – and yet many companies fail to pluck this low-hanging fruit. Employee gifts come in multiple forms; useful branded and personalized office and home items can provide great emotional reinforcement. Employee gifts don’t need to be expensive – but they should be relevant and meaningful.

Surprise and-delight gifting programs don’t need to be complicated or expensive. For these programs to produce loyal brand advocates, however, they should be customized to the individual or targeted to specific customer segments. You should also manage gifting programs to specific budgets and ROI results. Delivered in an engaging, personalized, and unexpected fashion, physical merchandise becomes more than just merchandise – it becomes a tangible reminder of your brand value. Personalized notes and branded packaging can further reinforce this bond.

Gifting programs are more than just marketing tactics. They’re a surprisingly effective way to build profitable, long-term relationships with your customers and employees.

Gregg O’Neill is Business Development Director for Hinda Loyalty Group, which sponsored this content .

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