From the Archive: Is The Customer Thank You Note Dead?


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This post was originally published on on 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 PenShow 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?

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Republished with author's permission from original post.

Adam Toporek
Adam Toporek is the author of Be Your Customer's Hero: Real-World Tips & Techniques for the Service Front Lines (2015), as well as the founder of the popular Customers That Stick® blog and co-host of the Crack the Customer Code podcast.


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