Mastering the Customer Gift

Oct. 24, 2022

A well-executed gift can be the difference between a repeat customer and a one-time job.

Every time you leave a dentist appointment, you’re often given a small gift bag with a toothbrush, some floss, and toothpaste branded with the dentist’s logo.

It’s a small consolation prize for an often undesirable activity—a token of appreciation for completing an underwhelming, but necessary task. 

Henry Roggi, owner of Roggi’s Auto Service in Hartford, Connecticut, has taken the same mindset with customer gifts at his shop. Often taking their car in for service is not the highlight of his customers’ week. It may lead to unexpected spending and time-consuming delays. And unlike the dentist, or a trip to a restaurant, the returns can be hard to appreciate. 

At a restaurant you can taste and experience your food. After a trip to the dentist, you can see and feel whiter, cleaner teeth. A trip to the repair shop is less likely to achieve similar noticeable rewards. That’s where a customer gift comes in. 

“With nearly everything that we do, most of the time the customer won’t be able to see it. It’s going to be under the hood or under the car, and if it’s routine maintenance they’re often not even going to feel it. So we try to give them something tangible that can relate back to the quality service.”

So what goes into the gift-giving process? Roggi and Richard Cox, owner of Orion Automotive in Ann Arbor, Michigan, detail their experiences.

Prioritize personalization.

To Cox, the most important part of developing a ‘swag bag’ or customer gift, is personalization. 

“We make sure there’s constantly something there in their vehicle when they pick it up so they know we thought of them in some way, beyond just fixing their vehicle.”

For different shops that means different things, and it should fit the company’s brand and style, he says. Cox’s shop sits on two acres of land, much of which Cox uses to grow flowers. So naturally, Cox will put flowers in customers’ cars after service. In keeping with the theme, he also partnered with a local seed company to put seed packets in the vehicle. He’s also done grocery totes, coffee mugs, and coupons for free lattes at well-known cafe in town. 

Roggi’s thought process is similar. After having countless personal experiences where he was forgetting to keep sunglasses in his own car, Roggi began giving away branded pairs of glasses to customers. He’s also given out drawstring bags and reusable grocery totes, a popular item around town as the nearby stores charge for plastic bag use. 

Roggi even has given away golf tees, which he often reserves for customers that he sees have golf clubs in the back of the car, going the extra mile to provide personalization. 

Regardless of what gift is given, one thing remains the same for both shops: a thank you note. 

Determine the scope. 

Roggi’s Auto Service gives every single customer a gift. When the technician has finished working on the vehicle, one of the last parts of their job is going to a big basket that is set up on the shop floor and grabbing a gift to put in the front seat of the vehicle. Every vehicle gets a gift and a note. 

On the other hand, Cox’s shop is selective on which vehicles get a gift. At the bare minimum, every car will be cleaned inside and out, and have a note placed inside, but not everyone may get a seed packet or flowers. Some gifts, like the flower bouquets, are reserved for the shop’s biggest jobs. Other customers won’t receive a gift because of the experience they had with the shop. 

“Some of those don’t apply to people who don’t treat us right,” Cox says.

In Roggi’s case, calculating the amount of gifts he’ll need to order and keep in inventory is relatively easy. He can rely on past car count numbers to give a good estimate of how many mugs or tote bags he might need to purchase for a given time period. 

For Cox, the process is a bit more involved. Within RO Writer, his shop’s management system, they have a specific category that designates which customers should receive gifts and which customers shouldn’t. 

That system might be tedious for some, but Cox’s gifts fit nicely in that model, since the availability of flowers and seed packets are bountiful. He doesn’t have to worry about tracking inventory as closely. 

“We just have an endless supply of that stuff because my wife and I are really into it,” Cox says. 

Keep it fresh. 

Roggi and Cox both rotate gifts throughout the year, roughly on a quarterly basis. In the colder months in Michigan, Cox will give away branded coffee mugs, seed packets and starter plants go out in the spring, and flowers are given in the summer. 

Roggi gives out the sunglasses in the summertime, that’s been the most popular item the shop has given away. In the winter, Roggi he’s given out mugs with hot chocolate and candy canes inside.

The idea should be that every time the customer comes into the shop, they are receiving something different. Depending on how often you’re scheduling cars for regular maintenance, that can be a good barometer for switching it up, Roggi says. 

At Roggi’s shop the letter reads: “Thank you for trusting us with your vehicle. We are thrilled to have you as part of the Roggi family.” During COVID, Roggi added an extra sentence along with giving out the sunglasses that said “Brighter days are ahead.”

“That little bit of personalization goes a long way,” he says.