The ins and outs of client giftsSeptember 25th, 2009 . by Steve Cousino
Let’s face it: we like giving gifts. Aside from being an exceptional marketing tool, client gifts are a great way to bolster the working relationship between professional and client, and help provide value in the client’s eyes.
Not all of my clients are “gift-worthy” – so who makes the cut? Everything is subjective based on the client, meaning that the list below isn’t iron-clad. But, here are my basic guidelines:
- The client travels frequently
- The client makes the entire vacation process easier
- The client spends more than $3,000.00 per person
- The client shows loyalty
- The client refers others
- The client is celebrating a special occasion
So, in essence, I expect something from the client in exchange for the gift (probably not the best mantra to follow, but hey, I have a business to run). I tend not to give one without reciprocation, except on special occasions like a honeymoon, anniversary, or other milestone.
Gifts cost money, and good ones cost more. They’re paid for out of my marketing budget, which is fed by the commissions and fees I earn. I try not to spend more than $25 on a booking, and many times that’s easy to do. The gifts don’t have to cost much to make a positive impression on the client. Last year, I switched agencies while I had a group cruise in the works. The original agency refused to release the group booking to me at my new agency. The group members stayed in touch with me, however, and ended up having quite a bit of trouble with how the previous agency was handling their group. To show I was thinking of them, I paid for each guest to have a plate of chocolate-covered strawberries through the line’s gift department. It was about $9.00 per person, so it didn’t cost much, but in light of the situation it went a long way with those clients. I am now handling their next group cruise next year.
So where do these gifts come from? Like my example above, cruise lines have a ready-made gift department you can use, many times at discounted rates if you make the reservation as their travel professional. I’ve sent flowers to clients while on vacation utilizing a local, destination based florist; I’ve ordered products from promotional marketing supply companies branded with my name and logo; and sometimes I’ve even made gift baskets myself. The possibilities are as limited as your imagination.
When I travel myself, I keep my eyes out for small, low-cost souvenirs for use in later gift-giving. When a client went to Disney World for the first time, I was able to give the entire family of four Disney collectible pins – the mother tells me they continue to enjoy Disney pin collecting and it always reminds them of that first visit. Sometimes, I come across a potential gift unexpectedly. I had a client who was a HUGE cruise ship buff – he could rattle off gross tonnages, ship histories, and more like most guys rattled off baseball player stats. He had planned an Alaskan cruise with me on board the Carnival Spirit. When I was surfing for Christmas gift ideas for my family, I found a company that made a die cast model of the Spirit. I couldn’t resist purchasing one for my ship-buff. When I presented it to him after his trip, he was completely overwhelmed. I hadn’t known it at the time, but that cruise was the last vacation he ever took. He had been diagnosed with a terminal illness and the cruise was his farewell vacation. He had paid for his entire family to go on the cruise with him, and now they have the ship model to remind them of that very special trip.
Giving gifts to a client should show thought towards that client’s itinerary and their particular likes or dislikes. I tailor each gift to each client independently as much as possible, and many times it’s the second thing they rave about when they return (the first being the vacation experience itself). I give gifts because it makes me feel good, and it makes the client feel good. I will only stop if I get to the point where I feel I HAVE to give a gift in order to keep the client, or make a sale. Gifts should be just that, not an obligation.
This brings us to the last bit–when to actually give the gift. Most of the time, I like it to be an unexpected surprise (no one wants their clients to EXPECT gifts). For cruise vacations, if possible, I make arrangements for the gift to be in their stateroom, or delivered to the table at dinner. If that isn’t possible, I try to visit the clients a day or two before departure, and physically give it to them at that time. All-inclusive resorts are good about this too, often advising upon check-in “Your travel agent has made arrangements for you to have a complimentary spa session during your stay” or similar. It helps to have a good relationship with the property’s sales manager for that one! Other gifts, clients, or situations require me to be flexible with presentations. Sometimes I give the gift when they return, and sometimes I present it with the travel documents. There was one occasion where I had clients traveling to London, England. I had a reliable friend who was visiting the city around the same time, and I sent the client gift with her. She stopped by their hotel room one evening, knocked on the door, and presented the gift, compliments of me, then promptly left. The clients were thrilled, I was thrilled, and my friend got to have a little fun being an anonymous Father Christmas for a few moments.
What do you do for client gifts? Do you do a lot? A little? Or nothing at all?
Steve Cousino, ACC, CTA, LS is a two-year industry veteran with Sunnyland Tours & Travel in Springfield, MO. He holds Lifestyle Specialist designations in Luxury Travel and Gay/Lesbian Travel, and is known for specializing in cruises, Western European tours, group travel, and culinary-themed travel. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or through his website at http://www.JourneysBySteve.com.