Don't write off those old fashioned ways

Feb 25 2008 by Andy Hanselman Print This Article

E-mail is so easy. With E-mail newsletters, we can all reach our customers quickly, efficiently and economically with the press of a few keys on a computer.

The upside of this revolution in mass communication is that increased reach, raised profile and brand reinforcement is achievable for less money, resources and effort. It's easy to show our customers we care about them – we're keeping them informed, updated and we're thinking about them.

But if we can do it, so can everyone else.

So the downside is that brand reinforcement quickly becomes bland reinforcement. Standardised email templates means that everything looks the same, while ease of use means that too many people misguidedly believe that sending something that looks good is a substitute for something that is good!.

The other thing is that many of us who receive these newsletters know it was easy to do, so don't try to kid us that it demonstrates you care!

Of course, email and e newsletters have their place and can be a very effective and useful tool for many of the reasons I've outlined above (my own email newsletter creates opportunities and enquiries for me, so I know it works). But the danger is we come to rely on it – we tick the box that says we have contacted our customers this month and leave it at that.

So in a world where everyone is doing the same thing, maybe it's time to do something demonstrably and dramatically different. It may not be fashionable in this age of 24/7 instant communication, but why not write your customers a personalised letter or send them a card?

I received a handwritten postcard recently from a supplier of mine last week. It had a real impact on me. A personalised, thoughtful message that stood out from all the emails, junk mail and text messages I receive.

Cards, letters and personal notes can demonstrate that you care, because they require effort. They show that you've thought about it, taken some time out to do it and, when it's personalised, come across as something genuine and meaningful.

If you want to give this a go, here are some basic pointers to getting it right:

  • The note needs to appear spontaneous or unexpected (although you can plan spontaneity – more of that later)
  • It needs to be personalised – to a named individual, with relevant content that relates to something specific about them or their business
  • It should be unconditional – don't try to sell something else, or introduce a new product or service, no matter how subtle.
  • Handwritten works best – it reinforces the personalisation
  • Create a reason for the note – 'congratulations', 'well done' or even a simple 'thank you' counts
  • Be genuine – don't creep or overdo it!
  • Keep it simple and to the point

One basic approach to this is to do it Systematically. A client of mine sends a handwritten card on the anniversary of doing business with her key customers: 'you've now been a customer of ours for 'x' years - thanks for doing business with us'. Another always sends a short personal note after a customer places their first order.

This need not be a lot of work. Do you have a credit control system that automatically generates a letter when a client account is overdue? Why not automatically send personalised 'thank you' notes to customers who pay you on time? All these examples can come under the banner of 'planned spontaneity' – provided they appear genuine and personalised. Look for ways to build these into the way you do business.

Another approach it to write impulsively. Think of some of a customer you're currently working with and find a reason to drop them a personal note – 'thanks for your help / business / order' or ,'I saw this and thought of you' (attach an interesting article, or useful website URL (try!), 'congratulations on the promotion, winning the contract'.

Alternatively, think of a customer you haven't heard from or done business with recently and engage with them. Start looking for opportunities to respond with personalised notes in some aspects of your ongoing correspondence – they'll be all around you. You just have to spot them.

Let's get this straight. Personal notes don't replace email, and are no substitute for spreading a mass message. They are not usually suitable when a prompt, speedy response is required electronically, and they don't tend to work for day to day correspondence in a fast-paced global business world.

They can be a way of demonstrating a difference. See them as an extra, a genuine attempt to touch your customers and to personalise your relationships. They may be old fashioned, but we all like to be recognised as human beings. Personal notes can remind us that someone took time out to do just that.

So, what are you waiting for? Get out there, buy a few postcards (or even get some printed specifically), and start delivering them. And encourage your people to do the same.

Don't write off those old fashioned ways, simply write.

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About The Author

Andy Hanselman
Andy Hanselman

Andy Hanselman helps businesses and their people think in 3D. That means being Dramatically and Demonstrably Different. An expert on business competitiveness, he has spent well over 20 years researching, working with, and learning from, successful fast growth businesses. His latest book, The 7 Characteristics of 3D Businesses, reveals how businesses can get ahead, and stay ahead of their competitors.