Friday, 29 July 2011

The Lost Art of the Business Thank You

Why is it that hardly anybody writes thank you cards anymore? In fact, many times a gift will go completely unacknowledged by any form, be it e-mail, telephone, or mail. Yes, OK, now you can label me an old fuddy-duddy when I say that it was drummed into me and most other kids of my era that when you received a gift at Christmas or on birthdays, you sat right down and composed a thank you. My mother hounded me until it was done. Well, I think it's time for some motherly hounding in business.

Sure, a short e-mail thank you to a client after a big event is better than nothing. I still say, though, that there is something ultimately more classy about the written word. Maybe it's the anticipation of receiving a personal letter in the mail with your name on it and the expectation of what that letter holds. It's an expectation and an anticipation that lasts a bit longer than the time it takes to open an e-mail and that extra time is - for me anyway - psychologically positive. I guarantee you that any thank you to a client puts you one step closer to receiving repeat business. For me, the very best form of thank you is a hand-written card. Yes, hand-written.

Let me digress for a moment.

I was very disappointed to learn earlier this year that cursive (handwriting) had been taken out of some US school curricula. Apart from the well-known neurological analysis that can help to tell about someone's personaliy from their handwriting, there is something far less tangible but equally beneficial in cursive - the fact that handwriting delivers a measure of personal sincerity. A tiny bit of someone's real personality emerges from the handwritten page. It's a quality that cannot truly be delivered by a smiley emoticon in an e-mail or even by typewriting. And I don't believe that the quality of the writing is as important as some of the detractors of handwritten notes believe. Their argument goes like this. "I don't hand write letters because my writing is so bad it makes me look like a little kid." OK, but does that really matter? It is still a measure of who you really are, and that's not necessarily bad. Why are you afraid to give a bit of yourself? If you are really worried, then a typewritten letter or card would be the next best thing. By the way, there is still time to try to improve that handwriting.

So back to the matter at hand. What sort of card or letter should you use? In one word - personalized. If it's a letter, it should be on your company letterhead and of course, high quality paper. If it's a card - and I highly recommend a card - make it a customized card. My business partner used to be an artist and would hand design a unique card for every client or every occasion. I was not an artist so early on when I owned the business I went to a printer and had a couple of hundred custom cards created with my company logo (a bowing performer in a spotlight) and a note inside that said "Thank you. You've been a great audience!" There was room to write - or type - a short note on the inside cover of the card.

I sent one of these cards to all clients that gave me any substantial piece of business and even to my repeat clients, pretty well all of whom I kept for most of my nineteen-year career.

Oh, yes, always sign your card - and even your letter - using a pen. It's that final touch of connecting and giving of yourself.


  1. Doug I couldn't agree with you more.
    Saying Thank you.

    Say thanks to all of your customers at least once yearly at Thanksgiving time.

    Thanksgiving draws its origins from pilgrims that immigrated to the Americas in the 17th Century. It spread to Canada from the US and steadily evolved into the secular autumn feast that it is today. In French Canada, it’s called “Action de Grace” meaning the act of giving thanks.

    The beauty about Thanksgiving, both as a holiday and as a celebration, is that it is readilly understood and almost universally embraced as a time to express gratitude – no matter a person’s religious affiliation. The abundance of nature’s gifts, the fall harvest, the grain, the fruit, the bounty, the seasons, our health and our way of life seem more precious to us at this time of year than any other. Why? Because it’s when we heartily reflect on how fortunate we are and when many of us gather with friends and family to celebrate benevolence of it all.

    Above all nations, Canada is blessed with incredible natural resources, an abundance of crops, relative economic wealth, and political stability. We are one of the most prosperous nations in the history of the planet. Our streets are comparatively safe and most of us lead pretty fulfilling lives. Most days we don’t even think about our envied position in the world – we take it for granted.

    At Thanksgiving time, we summon it up, count our blessings and share a common spirit of gratitude with friends and family. When we reflect deeply, our appreciation extends far beyond those with whom we may share bread during the Thanksgiving feast. In one way or another, we are all indebted to many: farmers, factory workers, trades-people, professionals, public servants, volunteers, laborers, merchants, artists, mentors, suppliers, benefactors and others. Even those we serve through our charitable work enrich our lives. Why not say thanks – especially during this time of the year? How can we do it?

    It’s simple. Let’s begin sending Thanksgiving wishes and cards. Imagine what will happen when Canadian charities “seize the day”. We’d certainly single ourselves out. Let’s start a dynamic annual tradition - a uniquely Canadian one. Instead of routinely sending Christmas cards and thereby risk offending non-Christians on our list and getting lost amongst the multitude of hundreds of other seasonal well-wishers, let’s collectively begin sending Thanksgiving cards and wishes. If any group deserves to steward the idea in “saying thanks”, it’s Canadians. We should be “THE LEADERS” in expressing gratitude. Why not send them Thanksgiving wishes or cards for people’s business, not requests for more, but simple genuine articulations of gratitude? What better time of year to do it?

    I annually post Thanksgiving cards to colleagues and business clients. I know that my cards have profound long-lasting impacts. It works wonders. I even know for a fact that my expression of thanks saved one person from suicide.

    This is my Canadian Thanksgiving Wish. Share my fervor. Give thanks at this special time - every year. Come on Canada! Let’s do it, eh! Let’s become leaders in “GIVING THANKS”.

    Roger Richard Breault, MCS, CFRE
    President, Speakers’ Bureau of Alberta©
    1.866-420.3338 toll free or 780.455.3338

    PS: Here is a great verse to place inside your Thanksgiving Card. It’s yours. It’s lifted from the public domain.

    God lends to us, as stewards,
    Abundance we might share
    And thus provides earth's children
    The blessing of his care.

    Give thanks, my soul, for harvest
    For store of fruit and grain;
    But know the owner gives so
    That we may share again.