It can be easy to fall into a routine when showing clients appreciation. How can you take client appreciation to the next level? Choose personalized options to help you and your business stand out. Consider these tips from your colleagues.

1. Go small

“We don’t do too many group client [events],” says Cynthia Kett, principal at Stewart & Kett in Toronto. “I’ll tend to think of a few ideas for special clients. You can’t always be doing something for every single client.”

For A-list clients, she tailors gifts precisely to their interests. For example, for those who enjoy theatre, she’s purchased tickets to shows in Toronto.

Kett owns a timeshare in New York City, and she’s offered stays to long-term clients. “I wouldn’t offer it all the time,” she says of the condo stay, adding she usually offers it to clients she’s had for more than 10 years, and to whom Stewart & Kett charge fees of $10,000 or more annually.

Kett pays maintenance fees on the timeshare, and it doesn’t cost her anything extra to book it for a guest. “Most of our clients love New York, so they are generally appreciative of the offer,” she says.

Recently, it was a client’s birthday, so Kett offered the condo to that client and her friend. She also provided them with suggestions for activities.

Meanwhile, Lanie Collins, marketing associate and event manager at Nicola Wealth Management in Vancouver, says her team doesn’t host many events. But, when they do, they strive to make them intimate. In October 2014, the company held a culinary outing for 18 clients at a Vancouver cooking school called The Dirty Apron. “It’s a soft sell, with no direct business,” says Collins, “but it’s a great feeling for those people.” Collins notes her clients enjoyed learning and eating with the group. She estimates these types of events usually cost between $1,800 and $4,500, depending on the scope.

2. Take notes

It’s the personal touch that Kett says is most important. To achieve that, take notes when meeting clients, and keep those tidbits in an accessible database.

For instance, one couple mentioned a movie that the husband enjoyed. It was hard to find, but Kett purchased it for his birthday.

“If you can do something that’s meaningful, that’s going to carry a lot more weight,” she says.

Collins lets information come up naturally. Recently, a couple mentioned they were going to Australia, so the company sent them a tour book.

And Collins tries to be creative. She and her team have hosted Mad Men viewing parties, complete with themed menu, for 20 clients. One of the firm’s advisors is a fan of the popular TV show, and came up with the idea because he thought his target market would like it as well.

Also, learn from any mistakes. “In celebrating the 50th anniversary of a client, I invited him and his wife out to dinner and gave them a bottle of champagne,” says Kett. “It came out during the meal that one of them had been an alcoholic.”

She apologized profusely. “They were gracious, but that was a learning moment.” Kett is now more careful and aware when it comes to giving gifts.

Still, she says, inviting guests to special meals is a great idea. For one long-term client, their annual meal at the Fairmont Royal York in Toronto has become a treasured tradition. “It solidifies the relationship and it’s also a fun thing to do.”

Kett, who is a partner at her firm, doesn’t set a budget for her client appreciation events. “That means my promotional budget isn’t subject to someone else’s authorization.”

Building business

When Toronto-based Kerr Financial hosted a golf tournament to help support the Montreal Oral School for the Deaf last summer (a client of theirs is involved in the charity and asked the firm to participate), they saw it as an opportunity to meet other people who had the same interests. The tournament included golf balls with the Kerr logo on it.

But they didn’t use the tournament as a sales forum. “If you do something like this only for prospects, it won’t seem genuine,” says Krista Kerr, CEO at Kerr Financial. “It ties us into the culture and community.”

She adds a good way to maximize client appreciation events is to follow up. “Attendance at an event is not always enough on its own to win over a potential client, but it is a good way to start to establish a relationship.”

Lanie Collins, marketing associate and event manager at Nicola Wealth Management, agrees, noting that if a client enjoys the event, she’ll naturally tell peers.

She encourages clients to bring friends, and thus prospects, to their events. “We don’t have exact numbers on the referrals that come from this approach, but it’s touch points like these small events that move potential clients […] toward becoming a client,” says Collins.

3. Make it like family

Kerr Financial has been a family-owned business for several decades and serves multiple generations of clients. Krista Kerr, chief executive officer at the firm in Toronto, says they host events their clients’ families can enjoy. “We had a client whose son was a concert pianist and was starting [his] career quite young. So we organized a concert at the Maison Ogilvy in Montreal,” she says.

The event took place in May 2014, and they sent out invitations about two months in advance.

“It allowed the client to feel good, because the son was being presented, but it also provided an opportunity for our clients to have a wonderful musical experience.”

Similarly, Kerr has also used their office space to host an art show that featured work from a client’s child, which was part of their annual cocktail event.

And since she’s on the board for the National Ballet of Canada in Toronto, she’s provided clients complimentary tickets to performances.

In recent years, Kerr’s also arranged viewings of private rehearsals and practices for clients who have children who might be interested.

Still, she acknowledges this kind of client appreciation can take a lot of time and money, with each event varying considerably in cost. “We have a budget for marketing items, including tickets,” she says.

And they’ve had some of their key suppliers act as co-sponsors. “We are selective with what we participate in,” says Kerr. “We make sure that it fits with our overall strategy and that it is innovative, and reaches existing or prospective clients.”

All three firms note that cost is often not a huge priority when planning client appreciation events. “The larger events are more ad hoc,” says Kett, adding that lunches and meals with clients don’t add up to too much.

by Lyndsie Corkum, an Alberta-based financial writer