How to Reward Loyal Customers Without a Loyalty Program

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Bill Macintosh
Bill Macintosh


Growing businesses have to not only attract new customers but keep the ones they already have.


Rewards programs are great for customer retention because they keep people engaged with your brand. Rewards can range from gifts, discounts, and points, and they can play a significant role in the customer experience by evoking an emotional connection with your target audience.

Although some people see customer rewards as cheap promotional stunts or short-term trends, these programs have regularly proven their ability to generate customer loyalty. In fact, 69% of consumers say their buying decisions are influenced by whether the company offers customer rewards.

If your company doesn't offer a customer loyalty program you don't have to scramble to put one together all at once. In fact, sometimes it's better to slowly introduce new benefits to see how your customers react to them, then add more over time. That way, you can build a strategy around your most popular rewards and create a loyalty program that successfully retains customers.

In this post, we'll explain how to offer customer rewards if you don't have a formal rewards program. You can use these tips as a starting point for improving the customer retention strategy at your business.

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Do You Need a Customer Loyalty Program?

One of the biggest hurdles that businesses deal with when trying to reward customers is not having a loyalty program in the first place. But, that's okay!

While customer loyalty programs are great and take a lot of the guesswork out of the effort, they aren't always necessary. For some brands, your business model won't align with a formal rewards program, but that doesn't mean you can't offer customer rewards at all.

In fact, not having a rewards program can offer a unique advantage where you can personalize rewards to the customer that's receiving it. This will make the reward feel more like a token of gratitude rather than an incentive that the customer has to work for over time. While a gamified loyalty program is certainly effective, it does take some of the feeling of appreciation out of the experience.

Take this rewards program for example.


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Sure, sandwiches are $8 each but since we know the 10th is always free, they're really only about $7.30 each. In this case, earning points becomes something that's factored into the overall price of the experience.

Additionally, when you don't have a loyalty program, it alleviates a lot of worry about red tape and specific rules to follow. Is a wrap a sandwich? Should I get points for it? Well, instead of worrying about someone taking you to court over your loyalty program, you can focus on giving customers something great to thank them for their business.

And, with this method, you can always choose the best reward that suits each customer. Maybe one appreciates some free tickets to a ball game while others are more concerned with knocking a few bucks off their order. Some people like freebies while others prefer exclusive access or special privileges.

It really depends on the customer but below are few ideas that should make just about anyone feel appreciated.

How to Reward Customers Without a Loyalty Program

1. Give Customers a Discount.

When providing a discount, the most important part is making sure the price reduction works for your margins while still creating value for the customer. You want to make sure you're taking enough off their next purchase so that they know you appreciate their business and aren't just trying to get them to come back into your stores. If you offer a tiny discount after years of loyalty, some may be insulted that you don't value their business more.

2. Send Your Customers a Gift.

While this is particularly great during the holidays, you can send gifts at any time of the year. For example, if you're a restaurant, giving loyal customers a free dessert from time to time would work well. But, you can also give gifts outside what you sell, like some of the examples provided below.


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According to Mark Reiser, the program manager at Awards2Go,

"Customer gifts have proven to be an appealing way to grow customer loyalty, as long as they're valuable, relevant and timely." - Mark Resier

But, before you go slapping your logo on every t-shirt and hat in sight, you should try to avoid giving out promotional materials unless it's useful and of good quality. People usually get tons of mini-flashlights, USB drives, and other “pieces of swag" from businesses and most of it just ends up in a landfill. Not only is this a waste for your business, but you don't want to associate your brand with trash, either.

When you do send a gift, try to hand-deliver it. Not only does this demonstrate sincerity and appreciation, but it also allows you to collect a testimonial from the customer. For instance, take this example where a customer is receiving a personalized bottle of champagne from Say It With Champers.


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3. Celebrate Your Customers with Recognition and “Thank You" Notes.

People enjoy recognition, and giving it to customers is usually pretty easy and inexpensive. For instance, having a “customer of the month" is one way to show some appreciation, but you can also take a more personal route by sending personalized "thank you" cards, like the example below.


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4. Collaborate With Another Business.

Cross-promotion can be an effective marketing tactic on its own, but you can build your rewards program around it, too. For example, a sportswear shop could partner with a local gym to offer discounted memberships. In return, the gym could give its members vouchers to the sportswear shop. It's a win-win for both businesses.

Try to partner with brands that have a similar customer demographic as yours but aren't competing directly with you for their business. If your stores are located in shopping malls, you might want to partner with surrounding businesses so you can benefit from their foot traffic. If customers get a discount for your company while shopping right next door, that's a good incentive to stop by to see what they can redeem it for.

5. Invite Customers to Test New Products and Services.

Customers love to be included in the product development process because it lets them provide feedback about the products and services they buy. When you're thinking about launching a new product or service, or even if you're just coming up with a new pricing plan, invite your most trusted customers to try things out. Not only will this give them a sense of ownership in the final product, but you'll obtain valuable market research, too.

6. Gather Customer Feedback.

Similarly, just asking your customers for their opinion will make them feel appreciated. As valued stakeholders of your business, they'll give you informed opinions that can improve your products and services.

Try sending customers a survey to ask them for their thoughts about your business. This could be a Net Promoter Score survey or a customer satisfaction survey. Regardless of what you choose, gathering customer feedback is a great way to show customers you care about their opinions and are interested in creating a better experience for them.

7. Host Company Events.

Whether it's a product launch or just a spectacular holiday party, events can be a great opportunity to reward customers with a little fun and excitement.

If event planning isn't your forte, you can sponsor local events and grab some VIP tickets to pass along to your customers. This happens all the time with trade shows as sponsored exhibitors will often get a handful of tickets to give out to their customers. This gives the brand the advertising value of sponsoring the event as well as an opportunity to inspire customer loyalty.

8. Offer Preferential Treatment.

While many customers just want simple discounts or freebies, you may find that others appreciate preferential treatment. This includes benefits like off-hour services, express delivery, managed services, and more. There are plenty of personalized services you can offer without adding too much extra cost on your end.

For example, you can reward customers who refer new leads to your business. Word-of-mouth is one of the most powerful forms of advertising, so you can encourage that by giving your customers a special discount or gift for each new person they send your way.

Customer loyalty isn't permanent, and to be fair, it's not always under your control. That's why it's important to constantly show customers that you care about their business, so you can develop a long-standing, trusting relationship with them. As the tips above demonstrate, you don't need a fancy rewards program to do this, you just need to identify your most loyal customers and find a smart, effective way to reward them.

If you're looking for a digital approach to customer retention, learn how to create an ecommerce loyalty program.

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