Workers in vests and hard hats gesturing toward phone and talking
Showing appreciation goes a long way toward building lasting relationships

Are you thankful for the opportunity to work for customers who allow your company to thrive, grow and improve your financial condition? Do you regularly tell your customers “Thanks” or send them a thank-you note or a birthday card? Or do you do anything to show you appreciate or care about them and their success? I started, managed and operated my commercial general contracting company for over 45 years. We averaged $40 million to $50 million in annual sales, built over 750 projects and hired at least 10,000 subcontractors to get all the projects completed. As I think back, I don’t recall receiving more than one or two thank-you notes from any subcontractor, supplier or customer ever, for any reason. In retrospect, it seemed like the only personal communications I received were late change order requests after the work was performed, for work completed without authorization.

The art of appreciation for customers has become a forgotten gesture from the past. With technology and remote work, face-to-face meetings or thank-yous are not priorities to build customer relationships. Now, rather than doing anything special or personal for customers, people might text or email a short note and assume that will build strong relationships and perhaps win more work in the future. Companies must think doing a good job is thanks enough. But when a new customer calls, the opposite is true as they put on a full-court press to contact and see new customers in person.


An Unexpected Thank-You Works Magic

Just a few weeks ago, I received an unexpected thank-you note and personalized gift from one of my contractor business coaching clients for doing more than I was paid to do. I took some extra time to help them with their company’s estimating and marketing strategy. A few days later, a big FedEx package appeared at my office. My surprise was a gift box filled with six frozen T-bone steaks and stuffed potatoes. A little handwritten card from Billy Jones said: “George, thanks for taking the time to help my business. I appreciate your input and advice.” I was surprised and impressed. I immediately called Billy and thanked him for the uncalled for but appreciated gesture. In his humble way, he said: “Gosh, it was no big deal.” Guess what? It was a big deal to me! I will always remember him for that small token of his appreciation. He didn’t have to send me a gift or a card. But he did — and it worked like magic. 

Over the years, a few of our clients and subcontractors have shown their appreciation by sending or personally delivering customized premium golf balls with my logo on them, bottles of my favorite pinot noir wine from Sonoma, tickets with them to attend my favorite smooth jazz concert, a University of Southern California (my university) logo shirt from a Rose Bowl game, a windbreaker from the Masters Tournament in Augusta, a gift card to a well-known steak house in my area, or an invitation for my wife and me to join them in front section seats at a Garth Brooks concert. Notice the common theme of these memorable gifts? They’re all personalized and designed specifically for the things I like and do. Simple gestures return 1,000%. The next time I have an opportunity to do business with these companies, I will go out of my way to make it happen. I want to do business with people who care about me, respect my time and appreciate working with us. They really care about their customers. Do you?


It’s Miller Time

One of my top long-term and best subcontractors was Miller Flooring. They did carpet, vinyl flooring, ceramic tile and pavers. They always did a good job, and we almost always used them for most of our projects for many years. Why? The owner, Mike Miller, visited our office every few weeks to pick up plans, deliver samples, present proposals or discuss projects with our project managers and estimators. He also made it a point to pop his head into my office to say hi and see how I was doing. Over time, I got to know him better and we discussed ideas on how to improve and grow our companies. He cared about more than winning work; he also cared about my future, and he shared best practices he observed at some of my competitors. Every month or so, he also brought in a few bottles of wine I enjoyed, the latest business book or something fun and left them on my desk with a note.

The notes said things like: “Hey George, I bought a case of this wine and thought you would like to try it.” Little did I realize, I was getting to know and trust him better and therefore wanted to reciprocate for his generosity. 

As time went by, I encouraged my project managers to award Miller the flooring and tile jobs as a package. His prices were always fair, and they did excellent work. Plus, flooring and tile wasn’t generally a large expenditure on our projects, so why try to save a few bucks with low bidders we didn’t know or trust? As I look back, it’s obvious his time and money spent appreciating our business was paid back 1,000 times over for many years.


What Can You Do to Thank & Appreciate Your Customers?

  1. Take them to the annual big event in your community.
  2. Give them a business book to help their company.
  3. Send them a personalized birthday gift relating to their hobby.
  4. Take them to a professional sporting event.
  5. Invite them to join you on your annual fishing or hunting trip.
  6. Bring the company lunch a few times per year.
  7. Take them to breakfast, lunch or dinner.
  8. Send handwritten thank-you notes.
  9. Email job photos they would be interested in.
  10. Hold customer appreciation events.
  11. Provide a project completion gift.
  12. Present to their team the latest and newest material or installation methods.
  13. Take customers on field trips to show them innovative ways to build.
  14. Hold a “Take Your Kids to Work Day” for your customers, and let them play with your equipment.

Or, you could do nothing and hope your low bid will generate more work.


Take Daily Vitamins

Another winning practice is to send out handwritten thank-you cards to current or potential customers or referring parties every day. On an annual basis, a good goal is to touch base in person or thank each loyal and repeat customer at least three to four times. Tell them:

  • We appreciate the opportunity to do business with your company.
  • Thanks for letting us be on your team. 
  • Thanks for the chance to bid on your project.
  • I appreciate the time you gave us at our meeting yesterday.
  • Thanks for listening to our presentation. 
  • Thanks for giving us some great insight into what you are looking for in a contractor partner.
  • Thanks for approving our change order, submittals, payment request, etc.


Your notes need only be one or two lines long. Short notes make big statements. Always handwrite them — including the envelope. Look for top-quality, interesting, fun or success-orientated cards to send out. The more unique, the better.

Occasionally send customers small, personalized gifts of appreciation as well. If their son likes soccer, send a soccer ball. If their daughter likes gymnastics, send a book on Olympic gymnastics. If they’re golfers, find out what kind of golf balls they like, and send them a dozen. You can also send along business books, funny cartoons, business articles, tickets to sporting events, invitations to association meetings or gift certificates to their favorite restaurant. Anything you send should focus on them, not on you. Never send out marketing materials: It implies you are selling instead of appreciating. 

It only takes a few minutes to make a big impression. These notes, cards and gifts work like daily vitamins as they keep your bottom line healthy. It is amazing how little it takes to set yourself apart from your competitors. The return on thanks will amaze you if you just do it. Start today. One a day, OK?