Tomorrow is "Valentine's Day" and I hope you get some affection sent your way. People will exchange cards, flowers will be sent and for many there will be a box of chocolates too. Around £1.3bn is spent on Valentine's Day cards and gifts in the UK. In the USA, the average spend per person on Valentine's Day gifts is a whopping $131. It is clear that we want to show the people we love that they still matter.
So the question is, do you show your customers they still matter? If Americans are spending around £85 on gifts for their loved ones, just because they love them, are companies spending the same amount on customer gifts to show these people they matter too? The chances are, spending on gifts for customers is much less. After all, there are tax and VAT rules to consider - both of which cap the spending on gifts to £50. Furthermore, there are bribery and corruption laws in place, that make the sending of gifts to customers subject to potential scrutiny. There is clear legislative pressure on business to limit any displays of affection to customers through the sending of gifts.
However, that does not mean you should not shower your customers with love. Frankly, the sending of gifts on Valentine's Day is commercially motivated. People who have been horrible to their partners all year seem to believe that a box of chocolates, some flowers and a card can somehow wipe the slate clean, and everything will be OK. The only people smiling as a result of that are the card and gift manufacturers. The recipients are more cynical. Showing you love someone on just one day a year does not remove you from the responsibility of demonstrating it for the remaining 364 days.
The same is true in business. A low-value gift and card at Christmas, for instance, doesn't mean that we have "done our duty" and shown our customers that we value them. We have to do that all the time. There are companies, for instance, that have call centres that keep you waiting for half an hour as you hear a repeated message of "your call is important to us". Then towards the end of the year, you'll get a tacky, cheap gift from them. They seem to think that sending out some promotional gift has shown you how much they love you as a customer. Meanwhile, the fact that you are kept waiting on the phone shows you how much they do not love you.
We need to show how much our customers mean to us all of the time. That means in all our actions - the way we answer the phone and speak with them, the way we send emails to them and the way we interact with them. There are retailers, for instance, that don't seem to realise that it is vital for their staff to make eye contact with customers. As a result, we do not feel any human attachment to the company, instead feeling as though we are just one of a crowd.
Online we need to make customers feel special too. That means we treat them as individuals, we use the word "you" a great deal in our copy and preferably we have sites that have personal log-ins where we can customise the experience of our website to each individual.
It also means constantly looking at web analytics so we can see what interests customers so that we can provide more of that. Plus, it is about having response times for emails and social media messages so that customers feel they are being listened to and not ignored.
Couples who show each other that they love each other throughout the year do not really need Valentine's Day to show they care about one another. Similarly, businesses that constantly show they love their customers should not need a gift at Christmas to demonstrate the value a client brings.
Love for our customers should be shown in everything we do. Many businesses are much better at doing that face-to-face than they are online. How much love for your customers do you demonstrate with your website, your emails and your social media activity?