Someone sent me a short video recently letting me know she is a fan of my work and provided specifics on how it has impacted her. Watching it put a big smile on my face, and gave me all the feels. It was (at least it felt like) a heartfelt gesture from someone who wants nothing in return. That feeling underscored something I've been noodling on recently, especially as we approach Valentine's Day.

There are many ways to show your customers, and others you serve, that you appreciate them, that you care for them, and that they belong with you. It is important to do this because business is about belonging. But the methods you choose to send this important message shouldn't have to be tied to a transaction.

For instance, you may show your customers some love by offering a discount or a free gift with their purchase. But I often struggle with these types of promotions because the only way that customer gets to be on the receiving end of your appreciation is by first spending more of their hard-earned money.

The "love and appreciation" now appears transactional. Your customers may feel the relationship is only relevant and important to you if they're spending money with you. And if there is a lull or break in their spending, they may soon come to think they don't even exist. Whether or not that's true, it can feel that way.

That's a shame because it diminishes, and even taints, the image of belonging--that deep and strong feeling that your company's brand sees, gets, and accepts a customer as a person. Here are three ways you can show how much you care and appreciate them, without tying it to a transaction.

1. Send love letters.

Send out handwritten notes, a heartfelt personal video, or even a nice text or direct message to your customers. In a world where people are used to being asked for something on a regular basis, it is nice to receive some token of appreciation that says: "I'm thankful for you, because you are you."

Yes, it takes time and energy to execute these gestures. But the goodwill, joy, and lasting memories you will induce in those who receive them will be worth the effort.

If you have too many customers to send individual notes to all at one time, consider doing it at a milestone moment that is specific to that customer. It will allow you to reach out and engage at varying times. Or, you can commit to sending a few notes a day, until you're able to get to everyone. If that still seems like an overwhelming task, start by sending out a group note.

2. Host customer appreciation events.

Words can go a long way, but actions up the ante to show your customers that when you say you appreciate them, it isn't just lip service.

Consider hosting a free event for customers that demonstrates how much you value them. Don't have enough in the budget to throw an event that includes all your customers at once? Consider hosting smaller events over time, and invite a few of your customers to each one.

3. Surprise customers with a gift.

Gifts that come "just because" are also a lovely way to show customers you care. Sure, it may be nice to send one on Valentine's Day, their birthday, or Christmas -- but the ones you send with no reason other than "I think you are special" are the ones that stand out in your customers' minds and hearts.

Popular online marketing coach Amy Porterfield did it a few times by offering free Starbucks coffee to her audience. She uploaded a specific amount on a tab, and all her fans had to do was go to their local Starbucks and show the special code, and they got a cup of their favorite brew on Amy. Fans loved it and posted photos of themselves with their free cup all over social media.

You don't have to wait for a specific day or occasion. What's important is to express your gratitude in a manner that demonstrates you really do care about your customers, and they don't have to buy more from you to experience your appreciation.

As a result, they will give you more of their attention, adoration, and loyalty. Because they know that their belonging with you goes much deeper than a financial transaction.

Published on: Feb 13, 2020
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.