To say the pandemic has affected the retail industry is obvious, and a vast understatement. Just how much retailers have been affected varies with their size, industry and nature of their business. Large retailers with comprehensive e-commerce strategies not only weathered the storm, but many profited from the pandemic. Conversely, smaller retailers have struggled to stay open. Large or small, retailers have one important thing in common: their success ultimately depends on the relationships they develop and nurture with their customers.

Those customer relationships, often forged through interactions with employees, are vital for retailers that want to succeed in an ever-tougher environment. Gratitude, when placed at the center of those relationships, and expressed authentically, can not only win new business but strengthen and grow the existing relationships that help retailers thrive. Here are some thoughts to reinforce the importance of bringing gratitude to the forefront of your business.

Branding From Within

When our clients approach us for help with marketing, our first question to them is, “How would you describe your internal culture?” Many find this question puzzling because they don’t see their brand as more than their consumer-facing presence. A truly great company culture, built on a foundation of gratitude and supported by a team of brand ambassadors, is vital for business growth.

Creating these internal brand ambassadors isn’t just notionally beneficial. Studies show that employees who feel their voice is heard at work are 4.6 times more likely to feel empowered to perform their best work.

Two tips to start building a culture of gratitude with your employees:

  • Say “thank you” in writing to your employees. A casual, spoken “thank you” may seem sufficient, but when leaders take the time to craft a genuine written expression of gratitude, employees feel more valued.
  • Give them the gift of your time. The gift of your time, as a leader, is the most valuable way to express gratitude. During that time, be sure you’re truly listening. Be open and transparent.

Employees who feel valued and understand their contribution to business success will be your biggest brand champions. Remember, it’s those on the front lines that are in a position to give your customers the exceptional experience that keeps them coming back again and again.

Loyalty Programs Don’t Equal Gratitude

These days, most retailers, large or small, have some sort of loyalty program, whether it’s a free coffee after five purchases, exclusive VIP event invitations, or near-instant delivery. Ask yourself though, are the members of your loyalty program really the customers with whom you’ve forged the best relationship? A recent study by the Wharton Baker Retailing Center and customer experience consultants The Verde Group concluded that when loyalty program members encounter problems with your business, they get even more upset than nonmembers. This is in part due to the difference between the nonpersonal offerings of a loyalty program vs. a customer interaction truly inspired by authentic gratitude. It’s the latter that strengthen relationships with customers and drive business growth.

Two tips to drive loyalty through authentic gratitude:

  • Ask your customers what they want. What’s important to some of your customers may not be important to others. Some of your customers may value free shipping, while others want invitations to exclusive events. Asking your customers how they would like you to express gratitude, and then doing just that, builds a personalized, authentic connection that brings repeat business.
  • Communicate regularly with your customers. Creating an authentic connection with your customers goes well beyond sending out an e-blast when you’re having a sale. Communicating regularly about what’s happening — e.g., new product development, new team members, charitable activities, etc. — helps convey what your brand stands for. And, if your communications also come from a place of genuine gratitude for the customers who are helping you grow and give back, they can certainly deepen and enrich relationships with those customers.

Businesses are capable of collecting so much data on consumers today. When the real value of this data is recognized, not just for communicating promotions or projecting product sales, but for getting to know your customer better, I mean really understanding their needs and wants, you have a powerful tool to help you nurture your connection to them.

Start Small

I’m a true believer in the power of gratitude to drive business. However, I’m also a realistic business owner who understands that for some, the concept of integrating a practice of gratitude can be daunting. Therefore, I encourage you to start small with your immediate team. Ask yourself: Who on my team helps me, keeps me accountable and makes my job easier? Then write personal note to each of them, on paper, not an email, that starts: “I want to thank you for … ” You’ll be surprised how this small gesture can bolster relationships with your team and lead to positive results for your business.