Customer Support That Doesn’t Scale: The Magic Of The Handwritten Thank You Note
When’s the last time you got a handwritten thank you note from a business?
Not some email thank you thing, or some automated, photocopied thank you letter. A real, handwritten, ink and paper thank you card.
Once? Twice? Never?
If you said never, you’re not alone. The humble thank you note (along with the cursive penmanship it carries) is a dying breed in business communities. Sure, send someone a toaster on their wedding day and 8-40 weeks later you’ll get an obligatory chicken-scratched thank you letter.
But give a business your hard-earned money, or award them with a business account, and you’re likely to never see any sort of analog gratitude.
And that’s too bad, Because if you pride yourself on customer service, you’re missing a huge opportunity. Not only will a handwritten thank you make you stand out, but there’s some real science supporting the practice. It’s one of the easiest ways to ensure a lasting relationship with your customers. All it costs you is a small amount of time and a few cents in stamps and paper.
A young company called HEX — which sells an array of bags, luggage, cases and other modern gear — built a thriving business from the ground up with the help of handwritten thank you notes. Writes Forbes Contributor Micah Solomon:
“HEX is a small company that competes with big brands from Tumi to Michael Kors, and has in part competed by incorporating personalized, handwritten thank you notes to purchasers–over 13,000 thanks notes to date."
Solomon writes how starting a business relationship in a memorable way like this has a disproportionate ability to affect your customers.
“The brain selectively chooses which events to store in memory. All things being equal, the brain ‘guesses' that the beginning of an interaction (the hello) and the end (the goodbye) are worth taking a mental snapshot of for future recall.”
Why Write Thank You Notes
If we truly understood how strongly a well-written thank you taps into your customers' psychology, it would be the kind of connection you’d pay thousands to achieve. Luckily, it’s basically free.
Because, research shows, people are more loyal and willing to do more for you when gratitude is properly shown.
In one study, researchers at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania divided university fund-raisers into two random groups. One group made phone calls to solicit donations the way they always had. The other group started the day with a pep talk from the director of annual giving. The director thanked the fund-raisers in person and expressed authentic gratitude for their efforts.
How would you expect the two groups' productivity to differ? Maybe a little bit, right? Maybe the pep talk group made a few more calls. Maybe productivity was the same, but spirits were a little higher? Keep guessing.
Because the pep talk group made a whopping 50 percent more calls than the other group.
Expressing gratitude isn’t just beneficial to the recipient. Sitting down to write a thank you card could have big benefits for you and others in your organization.
A leading researcher in the field of positive psychology, Dr. Martin E. P. Seligman, tested the impacts of various interventions on hundreds of people. The results were compared with a control assignment of writing about early memories. When their assignment one week was to write and personally deliver a letter of gratitude to someone who never had been properly thanked, the subjects saw a huge increase in their happiness scores, and the benefits lasted for a month. In fact, the benefits from the exercise were greater than those from any of the many other exercises they completed.
Not only does the research support putting time into gratitude, but go back and consider the question asked at the beginning of this piece. When’s the last time you got a handwritten thank you note from a business? It’s possible you can remember each one, you might even have saved them. Wouldn’t you like to make the same impression with your customers? So few people are doing this, the opportunity is huge for the few who put in the time.
Tips For Making Great Thank You Notes
We’ve established that a handwritten thank you note is a valuable use of time. Now how do you do it effectively? Here are a few tips from Gregory Ciotti at HelpScout. HelpScout, by the way, makes customer support software and knows a thing or two about great customer relationships.
- Don’t use red pen! It’s the equivalent of sending a ‘shouting' email in ALL CAPS. Blue or black ink is ideal. But if you’re a glitter pen kind of person…well, your sparkly message will probably make your customer smile.
- Use note cards or stationery that reflect your business. If you’re a vet clinic, keep it playful with paw-printed cards. If you’re an architectural firm, reflect your image with minimalist, artful cards. A postcard does the trick, too.
- Try to not write like an emergency room doctor; recipients appreciate legible notes.
Here are a few more tips.
Keep It Simple
On the internet, you can write forever. On piece of paper, not the case. You don’t have the time (or page real estate) to write a novel. This isn’t an essay. One to three sentences will do the trick. Keep the language simple, direct and short. Avoid exotic words when simple ones will do. Think Bruce Springsteen, not Maya Angelou.
Pick The Right Times
It’s nice to get a thank you card out of the blue. But it’s nicer to get a thank you card tied to an actual event. Here are a few times you could send a customer a thank you note.
- Immediately after closing a deal
- Immediately after demoing a product
- On the anniversary of the month you started doing business together
- After their company has received recent success or positive press (take this angle “Thanks for working with us, we’re thrilled to be on board with such a great organization.”)
Toss In A Freebie
Odds are, you have a stack of SWAG sitting in your office, maybe leftover from the last conference you sponsored. Stickers, t-shirts, coffee mugs, coasters. The thank you note is a great excuse to toss in a freebie.
Use the Right Paper
The paper you chose to send your note on says a lot about you. Something unique and custom goes a long way.It doesn’t have to be anything over the top, subtly speaks volumes. For example, Slack sends handwritten notes on an understated card with no branding, just their signature plaid pattern on the front. At the same time, don't be afraid of a little personality. Remember, you're sending a personal note here, not a TPS report.
There are plenty of options for buying custom stationary online. Rifle Paper Co. has an excellent selection of preset and customizable designs, each with a unique twist.
If you’re tight on cash or looking for a different twist on the personal stationary, consider this great advice from Steve Sims. Sims runs a luxury concierge service called The Bluefish. He picks up hotel stationary when he travels to send notes to clients. Or as he put it to John Corcoran on the Smart Business Revolution podcast.
"And so I ask hotels for stationery, envelopes, notes, all that kind of thing. And you can do it in your home town. Wander over to your local Sheraton, have a cocktail, walk to the front desk and go, “Look, I’m writing some letters to 100 of my most important clients. I’d love to use your stationery. 'Can I have 100 envelopes?' … I’m writing all these envelopes, my clients are getting envelopes from Krakow, from London, from Florence, from Rome, from the Amalfi Coast. ... you’re telling the client that while you were in Florence, you were thinking of them.”
You can’t track a handwritten thank you note the way you can an email. You can’t include a clickable call to action. You can’t track if they opened it, clicked it, liked it, shared it. Hell, you might not even know if they received it. The ROI you receive won’t fit nicely on a spreadsheet. You won’t measure and optimize based on data. These all, perhaps, are reasons the thank you note has fallen out of style in modern companies.
These are also great reasons you should be writing your customers thank you notes. You should do things that don’t scale, you should be wowing your customers with service and creating remarkable experiences. Karma isn’t always clean and organized. The ROI won’t be immediate. It will be messy and nebulous. But your customers will care. They’ll remember you. All it takes is a pen and some stamps.