In almost every one of my speeches, I talk about the value of showing appreciation. It can be in the form of a thank you note, an email, a phone call — even a text. It’s simply letting someone else know you appreciate them.

With the holidays looming just ahead, I thought this would be a perfect time to talk about appreciation gifts. Then I had a great dinner with my good friend John Ruhlin who is the ultimate king of appreciation gifts. We talked about my concept of the after-experience, and he had some thoughts worth sharing.

He said that so many people focus on showing appreciation after the sale or meeting. Why not do it before? Rather than an after-experience, make it a pre-experience. No one is expecting to get a gift before. The element of surprise is completely on your side.

For example, one of John’s major gift lines is Cutco Knives, beautiful high-quality kitchen knives. John shares the story of a client who put together a master-mind of CEO’s to meet to share ideas. Each member of the group is a high-profile business owner or executive. Prior to the first event, John created a custom Cutco chef knife with each member’s and spouse’s names engraved on the blade. This was packaged in a black box with silver writing, which John proudly refers to as his version of the Tiffany blue box. It included a handwritten note from the client that stated: Thanks for “carving out the time and resources” to invest your time and energy. Can’t wait to see you at our first meeting. With gratitude.

The members were blown away and the excitement of the upcoming meeting was raised to an even higher level.

While John’s gifts are really, really nice, you don’t always have to spend a lot of money — or any money at all — to create an after-experience or pre-experience. Just make it personal. If you buy someone a book, inscribe it with a personal message. Don’t just give someone a gift certificate to a random restaurant. Make it your customer’s favorite restaurant. The key is to make it meaningful and memorable.

This is an excerpt from a story, written by Shep Hyken, which first appeared on Shep Hyken’s Customer Service Blog. Read the full version here.