The Power Of Saying Thank You
By Joanna L. Krotz
Reprinted with permission from Microsoft Small Business Center
The wheels of business revolve with such spin and speed these days that we roll right over the courtesies. Who has time for quaint customs?
More to the point, who can afford to let competitors rush onto the new and the next while we slow down for pleasantries? You’re in for a surprise. The advice that follows, rest assured, is not some ubermom lecture about society’s loss of grace (not that I couldn’t get into that). This is about leveraging an underutilized edge in the marketplace.
Today, extending old-time courtesies helps you stand out. Yes, boys and girls, saying “thank you” has become a competitive advantage. So few people express appreciation — a Lenox etiquette poll found that nearly five out of every 10 people don’t always say thanks — that remembering to do so is a sales point of difference. It also goes a long way toward forging the relationships that can turn into opportunities.
Here are fast and affordable ways to show business gratitude, as well as tips about timing and tactics. Your takeaway: Don’t underestimate the power of saying thanks.
1. Throw a bash that boosts their business.
In New York, TelX, an interconnection facility, invites all its vendors to an annual party to say thanks. The event, called the “Customer Business Exchange,” is held in a large hall with tables where participants can set up demos or materials. TelX arranges for snacks and an open bar. The party attracts about 400 telecom customers who get the opportunity to network in a comfortable way. “Typically, millions of dollars of deals are generated out of these events,” says Rory Cutaia, TelX chief executive.
2. Be warm and personal.
When was the last time you wrote or received a handwritten note of thanks or even a thank-you e-mail? Strictly in gratitude, mind you, not as prelude to asking for something else. Customers and suppliers notice such gestures. Depending on your business, the note can vary from no-frills to fancy.
Joseph Ungoco runs Brandwrangler, a boutique New York PR agency that specializes in fashion and luxury goods. He says thank-you notes in his industry are key to maintaining the personal relationships that support business ones. But the look of the note must advance a company’s professional image. Recently, Ungoco ordered custom-designed notepaper on heavy stock with a personal monogram. The envelopes are expensively hand-lined to color-coordinate with his business cards. “People in the fashion and lifestyle industry apply the same standards to stationery they would to flowers. Hand-written is imperative,” he says.
3. But know that timing counts.
On the other hand, for most businesses, effective appreciation is less about cost or creativity and more about courtesy. Getting a note or an e-mail out right away — within 48 hours of whatever you’re thanking for — is more important than drop-dead stationery.
4. Pass along compliments.
When you want to express gratitude for something that’s had successful ripple effects, get the third party to send thanks. It creates a strong incentive for your recipient to stay connected. In Orlando, Fla., a nonprofit group called A Gift for Teaching provides free school supplies to central Florida teachers. Over the past five years, it has given $9 million worth of supplies to 278 schools. “The only thing the organization asks of teachers is to write, or have their students write, thank-you notes. It’s been a great success,” says the group’s former publicist, Kylene Petrin. This idea isn’t limited to nonprofits. Think about testimonials that could go out to customers from employees, vendors and more.
5. Send value-added appreciation.
“We maintain files of articles we have written or that are relevant to our business position,” says Alex Ramsey, president of LodeStar Universal, a business consultancy in Dallas. “We mail these out to treasured clients or intriguing prospects.” Whenever you come across a white paper, industry report or competitive intelligence that you think a customer or supplier might find enlightening, clip it and send it along at the right moment. Of course, make sure these are timely. But even if the client’s already seen it, he or she will appreciate that you’re supporting his or her interests.
6. Consider when to send for maximum impact.
At SureDeposit, a company in Livingston, N.J., that manages rental securities for landlords, customers and vendors get thanked for their business and services on Valentine’s Day. “The timing, well after the holiday crush, allows the company to stand apart from the crowd,” says spokesperson Nina Dietrich. This year, SureDeposit sent out gifts of gumball machines.
7. Be quirky.
Another way to make customers remember you is with unique or unusual gifts. Judy Katz, who runs a New York publishing PR firm, sends notes of thanks with plush bird toys made by Wild Republic (found online and in stores around the country). “Each has an authentic bird call. People go ga-ga over them,” says Katz. “It has really made a difference in my business.”
8. Appreciate employees.
Saying thanks to employees has several benefits. You build staff loyalty (and we all know how much turnover can cost in time, money and stress). And you increase productivity, which leads to customer greater satisfaction. Yet few managers or business owners bother. A scant 10% of employees report they have supervisors who say a daily “thank you” for a job well done, according to a recent nationwide Maritz poll. More than half of employees (55%) said they were thanked never, seldom or only occasionally.
9. Thank your complaining customers.
Research indicates that the majority of dissatisfied customers don’t bother to complain, points out B. J. Gallagher, an HR training consultant based in Los Angeles. They simply vote with their wallets and go elsewhere. That means complaints are a valuable gift in providing a heads-up about where to focus. “A customer who complains still wants to do business with you, if you can make things right,” says Gallagher. “So thank him or her for giving you that chance and assure him that you want to do everything you can to make him happy again.”
10. Don’t go over the top.
If someone refers significant business to you or is responsible for a healthy percentage of your revenues, it’s certainly appropriate to offer thanks by way of an expensive treat, say, dinner at an upscale restaurant or sports event tickets. Depending on the relationship, you might invite the customer out for some R&R — a spa treatment or golf. Just be honest about offering no-strings-attached thanks, and don’t try to pitch business or curry future favor, which will turn the client right off. Of course, the definition of “significant” varies with pricing and products. Freelance writer and publicist Ruth Furman, based in Las Vegas, sends gifts for all referrals that result in at least $500 worth of business. Otherwise, she says, “I send small gifts even if the referral doesn’t turn into anything just to show my appreciation and increase the likelihood of more referrals.” The little thank yous include, for instance, a Starbucks gift card, with her handwritten note that says: “Thanks a latte.”
11. Feel the power.
Simple or complex, e-mailed or mailed on expensive materials, saying “thank you” always works. The only time its effectiveness fizzles is when you pretend gratitude that you don’t feel. “Thank yous need to be sincere and on-brand,” says William Arruda, a New York brand consultant.