Is The Customer Thank You Note Dead?

June 11, 2012

When was the last time you received a handwritten thank you note from a business?

In this age of high volume and low touch, the handwritten customer thank you note seems to be dying a quick and quiet death. Technology has made the customer thank you easy, and as a result, almost worthless.

We have all received the post-purchase email — Dear Database Field, Thank you for your order, etc. These messages are easy and automatic, so everyone does them. And that is the point. They are not special or personal, and they make almost no impression.

Of course, these messages are not a negative by any means. If anything, such digital outreach is expected nowadays, and the absence of such a message would leave a bad impression.

The problem, however, does not just stem from businesses following the path of least resistance.

Handwritten thank you notes are becoming a lost art outside of business.

On Annette Franz Gleneicki’s excellent customer experience blog, Annette talks about her young sons and how thank you notes and the attitude of gratitude that is instilled by writing them is increasingly more rare. The text message/Facebook generation will enter your business possibly never having written a thank you note in their entire lives.

Fortunately, handwritten thank you notes are not rocket science, and anyone can be trained to create them.

4 Elements of a Great Handwritten Customer Thank You Note

An effective thank you note should follow a simple formula, encapsulated by the acronym PAST: Personalized, Authentic, Short and Timely.

  • Personalized – Do not just use the customer’s name but also personalize the content. Refer to the customer’s order or a conversation you had with them.
  • Authentic – Authenticity is an incredibly vague concept, but in this context, authenticity simply means that the note does not sound phony. When you thank someone for their business, mean it.
  • Short – No one needs to receive a dissertation from the company that just sold them a scarf. The space on a traditional paper thank you note is a pretty good indication of how long the note should be. 3-5 sentences in most cases.
  • Timely – A thank you note that arrives too long after the event has passed is worse than worthless, it is counter-productive. The thank you note needs to be timely. Timeliness will vary by company and industry but, in general, a few days after the transaction is about right.

How To Get Your Staff to Embrace Customer Thank You Notes

Customer Thank You Note | Hand With Pen

Show Them The Money – In one of our retail businesses (a personal service business), we encourage the service providers to send personal thank you notes to all of their clients. We supply the cards and the postage for any provider who wants to take the initiative. Our customers receive other handwritten notes from the operations team, but the notes are discretionary for the service professionals.

Guess what? The service providers who consistently write thank you notes are almost always the most successful practitioners; they are more requested and have deeper bonds with our customers than the providers who do not send notes. New hires, who adopt thank you notes from the start, soon outperform colleagues who have been with the company for years.

When we have a slow day, the providers who built their book with great service and handwritten thank you notes come to work to find a full schedule of requests. These providers make more money and have more job security, plain and simple.

Show Them The Smile – If the business is not a personal service business, direct monetary effects to the staff might not apply. Thank you notes, however, are intrinsically rewarding in other ways. Personal thank you notes will often generate responses from grateful clients. “I received the nicest note from Sarah; it made my day.” “I can’t remember the last time a company took the time to send me a personal note. Thank you so much!” When the feedback comes in, make sure to share it with those responsible. The team will soon be hooked.

Show Them The Business Results – In addition to the warm fuzzies, handwritten customer thank you notes are an inexpensive method of retention in most cases. As you begin to see tangible results, share with the team how the notes are helping the company be more successful. Most team members will get it and buy in.

Other Thoughts On Notes…

Why send a handwritten thank you note to a customer? Two words: attention and differentiation. The reality is handwritten notes are not that common anymore. By sending one, you immediately stand out. Conversely, generic business holiday cards do not make an impression, even if they feel personal.

Should every company use handwritten thank you notes? Absolutely not. Handwritten notes are more suited to small business, personal services, and B2B. Large companies can often use them well on a department level, but a company like Amazon should not be using them. The notes simply do not scale at that level, nor would they be personal enough.

What is the best way to decide if handwritten notes are a good strategy? Approach it from the standpoint of scarce resources and opportunity costs. Do your employees have down-time at certain points in the day? What else could they be doing to WOW your customers in the 3-5 minutes it takes to write a note? It is only a good strategy if it is a valuable use of team time; otherwise, the notes will be nothing more than the customer service initiative of the moment — and will likely fade out within a few weeks or months.

As the above musings have hopefully shown, the customer thank you note still has a valuable place in business. And while the handwritten note is not dead yet, if you use it effectively, your competition just might be.

Have you received a handwritten thank you note from a business? Did it make an impression or increase your feelings for the company?

15 thoughts on “Is The Customer Thank You Note Dead?”

  1. I’m a BIG fan of handwritten notes. I haven’t received many (if any) from businesses, but I try to send handwritten notes regularly, especially when people have done me a favor or taken the time to meet with me or share some advice. I do, however, need to do it more regularly – especially to welcome new clients. I often send a welcome gift, but a handwritten note would be a great thing to add to the mix – even if it’s just to say how much I enjoy working with them down the line.

    Great suggestions!

    1. Thanks Laura! I think the welcome gift is a great idea, but if you personalize it with a note, I bet it would have even more impact. I need to get better about sending them in my personal life. It’s just so easy to rely on email nowadays.

  2. Ah yes, the thank you note. I’m old school enough that I try to send at least 2-3 out a week for various reasons. In the age of technology, I truly believe they stand out even more.

    It really is simple to do and it’s one of the ‘little things’ than can make a big impression.

    1. It’s funny, because when we sent you the Kindle, I decided to let my marketing coordinator send the standard note even though you and I have a personal relationship. I wanted you to get the full “treatment.” But usually, I would have sent my own note.

      It’s amazing how such a little thing can really stand out. It’s good for us “old school” types, because what used to be obligatory is now unique!

  3. I’m not good at this,b ut I have a few friends who are. My realtor is great at this, as she sends us a Christmas card (and gift) each year, even though it’s been about 4 years since we last used her. She also sends along nice notes and gift cards for referrals we give her.

    Another friend is in insurance, and while I don’t use him, I send people to him all the time. Again, he sends nice gift cards as a thank you for the referral, whether the person becomes a client or not.

    And if you’re looking for more word of mouth and referrals, well, that kind of behavior will get you that and more!

    1. I like that your realtor includes a gift with the holiday card; does it make it stand out for you? I think the generic holiday cards are so common now that they have little meaning to most people. I must get a hundred from different vendors and associates; they just seem pro forma most of the time.

      The thank yous for referrals are a great idea — and as you point out, likely to create more referrals as well!

      1. I agree on the holiday cards. It seems moot to even send them via snail mail anymore unless you take the time to write a personal note inside. I get more and more electronic cards every year, which is fine with me – less to throw away. But it does make the holiday cards that come with a personal note even more special.

  4. Thanks for this reminder, Adam. I tend to send personalized thank yous, but mostly by email. A lot of solopreneurs have offices in their homes and so keep addresses private, which I understand. Once when I wanted to send a little something, I could find no address and didn’t want to defeat the purpose of a surprise by sending an email asking for the address. Just to say it can get a little odd trying to bring the virtual world into the pen-and-paper world sometimes.

    1. That’s a great point about solopreneurs. Hard to add a real-world touch when they stay hidden behind a virtual wall. Maybe it’s something you can do when you take a client on — send a client information sheet that asks for a real address, as well as other useful client intel that can be used down the road for WOW service. Just a thought…

      Thanks for sharing Shakirah! I had not considered that issue.

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