Some business owners get a little skittish around the holidays—and with good reason. Navigating the holiday season with friends and family can be tough enough, but how do we figure out the best ways to share and celebrate with our customers? Businesses tend to worry about striking just the right celebratory chord, being sensitive to diverse religious faiths, and not overplaying or underplaying good cheer with their customers. What’s the result? Companies that go dark during the holidays and managers who end up looking a bit too Grinch-like.
Instead of being intimidated by the holidays, look for ways to share in the joy of the season and promote good-will all year long. Here are five thoughtful, yet entirely professional approaches to celebrate the holidays with your clients and customers.
1. Send cards
Tasteful cards are a simple, inexpensive and professional way to thank your customers for their patronage. But remember, your card will be seen by many sets of eyes throughout the office. Opt for cards that are non-denominational and provide a general “Happy Holidays” greeting rather than a “Merry Christmas” message. You may even consider designing your own holiday cards and doing a small-batch printing for a more personal touch.
2. Give a gift
For companies with large enough budgets or a small enough customer base, a token of appreciation might be the ideal way to celebrate the season—gift baskets, coffee, a good bottle of wine, or gift cards are all great places to start.
A small advertising firm I know in the Midwest designs a unique tree ornament each year and has them produced in limited quantities by a local metal smith. Their customers collect them over the years and it’s become a popular signature gift.
3. Offer a discount
Consider celebrating with your customers by offering a discount on purchases made during the holidays. A one-time discount or special promotion that lasts all month not only benefits your customers; it encourages continued sales. But avoid turning a good gesture into bad PR—clearly specify the terms of the discount, when it ends, and any special exclusions that may apply.
4. Make a charitable donation
Promote a bit of holiday philanthropy by sponsoring a different charity each holiday season or offering to match a portion of your customers’ charitable donations during the holidays.
Charity creates enormous goodwill and is a classy way to give a nod to the true meaning of the holidays and do good work. If your company chooses its own charitable cause, stay above the fray by selecting one that can be widely endorsed and doesn’t inspire controversy or reflect ideological divides.
5. Host a special event
For a more face-to-face approach, host a holiday party for your customers.
Whether formal or casual, a party gives you the chance to connect with customers in a more intimate, light-hearted and festive atmosphere. For this approach, set some ground rules for your accounts and sales teams—keep the tone casual and celebratory without sales pitches. Remember, the goal is to wrap up the year on a positive and warm note. There’ll be time enough for upselling after the New Year.
Ultimately, the holidays should be a chance to celebrate with your customers, take a moment to reflect on the passing year and look forward to the new. So don’t let your business fall victim to the Grinch. Some planning and a little extra effort now will help forge strong relationships, show your customers you appreciate their partnership, and add to the joy of the season.
Kentin Waits is a freelance writer and marketing specialist based in Portland, Oregon. His work has been featured in US Airways magazine and top-rated blogs such as Wise Bread, the Consumerist, and MSN SmartMoney. When he's not writing, Kentin runs a small online antiques business.