Saying ‘Thanks!’ …the good old-fashioned way

March 18, 2008

In the spirit of giving and receiving, for many of us the holiday season is a time to thank our customers. It’s also an opportunity to reconnect with people from our past and send them our warmest wishes. In this winter edition of The Drilldown, our monthly newsletter we look at the importance of relationships and the simple ways we can successfully maintain them.Though we communicate with clients every day, we all know holiday ‘Thank Yous’ are especially important. These expressions of gratitude tell clients, ‘you’re special to us’ and ‘we couldn’t have done it without you.’ And what’s better than knowing you’re appreciated?

David Teten and Scott Allen, authors of Fast Company’s Networking Newsletter write, “Showing gratitude, is a key interpersonal skill…a leadership skill. At the very least, it demonstrates that the thanker has good manners.” But Teten and Allen make an important distinction. Saying ‘Thank You’ should come in the form of a handwritten note, not an email, because “it rises above the clutter of email so effectively.”

V. Kumar, J. Andrew Petersen and Robert P. Leone write, “What your customers feel about you and what they are prepared to tell others about you can influence your revenues and profits just as much as, or even more than, what your customers do themselves.” In a sea of competitors, a handwritten note and a personal message can make all the difference in getting more business. Current customers will come back feeling truly appreciated – but more importantly, if they believe in the product or the service they will spread the word – and we’ve all experienced the power of word of mouth endorsement. In fact, referrals have historically been (and continue to be) the most powerful sales agent for The Tatham Group.

Ron Ziola, recently retired vice president of IBM Canada would probably agree that one of the greatest factors to a successful business is knowing how to manage your client relationships. A seasoned and successful ‘relationist’, Ziola’s philosophy on how to obtain, retain and delight every customer is simple. “The secret is to exceed their expectations every single time. Even if it means doing something that has nothing to do with business.”

Sounds pretty straightforward, right? In today’s choppy waters, it’s not always so easy. Such nuggets of wisdom are often lost in the overwhelming amount of information available to managers who are continuously seeking ways to remain cutting edge. Over the last two decades, many businesses have strayed from traditional forms of communication – such as the telephone, the hand-written note or a personal visit and are turning to alternative media such as customer relationship management databases (CRM), ‘webinars’ (web seminars) and email promotions to track customers, monitor their habits and keep in regular touch.

While both forms of communication have their merits, one could argue there is a fine line between great customer service and over communicating. The truth about emails, flyers and mass marketing techniques is that they have long exceeded the point of being impersonal. In many cases, constant marketing is a downright nuisance. Teten and Allen write, “the problems with [communicating] by email, text or IM, are legion, but chief among them is that such messages get buried in the hundreds of communiqués we all receive every day. In addition, there is something terribly impersonal about emailed Thank Yous.”

So how do we strike a balance between keeping track of our customers in an efficient manner – a need that technology can fill, and at the same time, retain a sense of human contact and personal interaction that allows one to stand out of the crowd?

Perhaps Theodore Levitt, who wrote about managing customer relationships more than 20 years ago, still has it right. Levitt compared the relationship between buyers and sellers, is like that between husbands and wives. The sale, he argues, merely consummates the courtship, at which point the marriage begins. Levitt further argues that not all products require the same degree of relationship cultivating. The longer the sale and service cycle, the more complex the relationship and the more attention it requires. Those who understand and nurture these relationships will benefit from repeat business. But, according to Levitt, a database alone is not enough. “People buy expectations, not things. When it takes a long time to fulfill the promise or when fulfillment is continual over a long period, the buyer’s anxieties build up after the purchase decision is made. Relationship management can be institutionalized, but in the process it must also be humanized.”

Given the nature of our service and the cultivation of our relationships – many of which date as far back as the early 1990’s – here’s where The Tatham Group excels. One of the regular comments we hear from customers is how much they enjoy the feeling of generosity, warmth and hospitality offered by the Tatham family. Not only do we intend on continuing to offer this as part of our service, but we have also strengthened this advantage by putting in place a relationship-tracking database. This will allow us to create a profile and history of each of our contacts, which paints a picture of the relationship over time so that we can make better decisions.

As a way of expressing our thanks to all those involved in making our business successful, for the first time this year, The Tatham Group will be sending out holiday greeting cards and gifts. Because, in the words of John F. Kennedy, “As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.”