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Why Gratitude Is Your Key To Customer Growth and Retention For a start, consider signing up with Code Gratitude, which offers discounts to first responders and active and veteran military personnel.

By John Brubaker Edited by Dan Bova

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Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.


Customer Appreciation Day was April 18. Did you miss it? Me, too. But what if every day was Customer Appreciation Day? For one entrepreneur it is: Code Gratitude founder and CEO, Shannon Moss.

Related: 5 Cool Things You Can Do With Customer Feedback

Code Gratitude was launched on August 1, 2015, as a mission-driven company dedicated to showing appreciation to first responders and those in protective roles, by having local businesses offer them special deals and discounts. CodeGratitude.com connects these businesses with the men and women in law enforcement, firefighting and EMS, as well as those in the military, and veterans.

According to Moss, "Protectors benefit from the savings while local businesses grow. Code Gratitude is not charity, it's a nod of appreciation to our protectors and efficient, cost-effective marketing businesses can feel good about."

As an entrepreneur, sometimes the best ideas don't scream at you; more frequently, they whisper. Moss shared with me the origin of how her company was born.

She told me how her husband and she had been in an Under Armour store in North Conway, New Hampshire, shopping for their sons when they happened to learn at checkout that the store offered a military and first responder discount. "We had had no idea," Moss said. "While we both appreciated the savings it was the look on my husband's face I won't soon forget. He was impressed and clearly grateful for the gesture.

"Fast-forward a few months and we were booking a room at The Great Wolf Lodge in Massachusetts when I saw a Heroes Discount. Again, by happenstance, I discovered they offered a military and first responder discount."

She said she immediately began asking herself why she and her husband didn't know about these discounts? And, "Wouldn't be it great if there was one website that featured all of these businesses?"

Related: 3 Ways to Increase Customer Loyalty

Moss took it a step further by inviting other businesses to join the website and customize their own discounts, not as charity but as a nod of appreciation to protectors and a way to increase foot traffic in their stores.

Now entering year two, the organization is growing by leaps and bounds because Moss filled a void in the market and in the process became the gateway of goodwill between customers and vendors. What if your business similarly showed more appreciation?

Why is this nod of appreciation so important? Because most people are operating at an appreciation deficit. In fact, I bet it's easy to rattle off a list of folks you know who feel underappreciated. Appreciation is a powerful thing and a little gratitude goes a long way.

According to SCORE, 70 percent of all buying decisions are based on how customers feel they are being treated. Furthermore, 82 percent of business owners believe loyal customers are the key to their growth and are worth up to 10 times their first purchase.

Most customers leave because they feel the business doesn't care about them; significantly fewer customers leave due to dissatisfaction. How does your business make people feel?

Mary Kay Ash (founder of Mary Kay Cosmetics) attributed much of her success to the fact that she viewed everyone she met as wearing an invisible sign around their neck that said "Make me feel important." This principle is Code Gratitude at its core. It's not complicated management theory or marketing, it's as simple as simple gets; and simple is powerful. Appreciation marketing, in short, is a competitive advantage.

What I learned at my local Starbucks

Case in point: I go to the same Starbucks every morning on my way to work, and in the process drive past three or four other coffee shops that are closer and more convenient. I choose that Starbucks because they know my name, greet me with a smile, ask how my family is doing and always say thank you.

Knowing I'm an author and voracious reader, the manager gave me a signed copy of Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz's book as a gift. Not as a Christmas gift, birthday gift or any other holiday observance, "just because." The way the staff makes me feel by showing their appreciation is a simple but powerful customer acquisition and retention strategy that over the past ten years has resulted in thousands of dollars in business from me.

I hold mastermind group meetings there, invite clients to meet for coffee and socialize with friends there as well.

Now, what's important here is that if this framework interests you, you don't have to be a big franchise like Starbucks or cater to a unique niche like Code Gratitude; you just have to care. For example, this month I'm speaking at an ESPN Radio customer appreciation event in Fayetteville, North Carolina. My client, Jeff Andrulonis, has been running appreciation events each year for the past five years.

The event is catered with food and drink, Andrulonis updates his clients on exciting new events happening with the radio stations and hires me to deliver a motivational speech. To further demonstrate his appreciation, Andrulonis extends to each client a generous advertising discount for the next calendar year. In line with Mary Kay's "Make me feel important" mantra, the company also treats me like a king each year when I come to town.

Appreciation isn't just something nice to do, it's a competitive advantage because there's a false belief among a lot of businesses that having a great product or service is enough. Sorry, but greatness alone isn't enough, it's just enough to get you in the game.

Everyone is good at what they do or offer, or they'd be out of business by now. And what can elevate you and distinguish you is how your make your customers feel. Do they feel appreciated? If not, they've got one foot out the door and lots of other options. This is why you should be doing the same thing the brands mentioned here are doing to show your customers how much you appreciate them.

Related: 25 Tips for Earning Customer Loyalty

When you calculate the lifetime value of a customer, you'll see that a discount program like Code Gratitude or the customer appreciation event ESPN radio hosts are investments, not expenses. That means investments that don't just keep you in the game but help you win it.

John Brubaker

Performance Consultant, Speaker & Award-Winning Author

John Brubaker is a nationally renowned performance consultant, speaker and award-winning author. Using a multi-disciplinary approach, Coach Bru helps organizations and individuals turn their potential into performance.

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