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Best of CoBiz: Chef Laura on the power of gratitude

Laura Cook Newman //November 27, 2013//

Best of CoBiz: Chef Laura on the power of gratitude

Laura Cook Newman //November 27, 2013//

It didn’t matter if it was an Easy Bake Oven, a Benetton sweater or a $5 bill slipped into a birthday card from my grandfather – the rule was, you could not play with it, wear it or spend it until the thank you letter was written.

You would think that a 10-year old would protest such a stringent policy, but I didn’t mind.  Some nice words on my Hello Kitty stationary were all that separated me from making chocolate cake with a 100-Watt light bulb.    

I assumed this was a typical household rule that most children endured. I was wrong. 

 “Geesh, your Mom’s strict,” my friends said sympathetically.  At the risk of losing cool points with my peers, I’d say, “I know.  She’s sooo lame!”  But secretly I knew that writing thank you notes was not just polite, it was the right thing to do.

Expressing gratitude is like salt to a chef.  Sometimes you can get away without adding it, but most dishes are better with a sprinkle.

In my twenties, I took a brief hiatus from food service, and sold clothes at Nordstrom – a company known for its exceptional customer service.  To set them apart from other department stores, Nordstrom encouraged its employees to write thank you cards to their customers.  The company made it pretty easy by supplying the engraved stationary, pens, and postage. 

During “down time” in the Special Occasions department, my coworkers would huddle around the registers and chit-chat about boyfriend drama.  I’d half listen, chiming in an occasional “Oh no he didn’t!”, as I penned notes of gratitude.  “It’s so cute that you actually write those things,” they’d faux-compliment me.

One day a customer approached the counter, reached into her purse, and extracted Nordstrom stationary scribbled with my handwriting.  At first I thought she was going to admonish me for my blatant use of dangling prepositions, but instead the MOTB said, “I need a dress for my daughter’s wedding.  Can you help me?” 

Did I mention we worked on commission?  Looks like writing thank you cards wasn’t so “cute” after all.  In the words of Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman “Big mistake.  Big. Huge!”

Recently, I hired a roofing company.  I paid the invoice by credit card via phone, and the office manager said she would mail me a receipt.  A couple days later, a small envelope arrived in my mail box.

The shape and sturdiness of the envelope suggested this was not typical “business” correspondence.  It was a greeting card with a painting of a quaint home and picket fence on the cover. Opening the card revealed a sincere note of thanks on the right side.  On the left side was my receipt, as promised, tucked behind the company’s business card, inserted into diagonal slits.  Clearly, this was not their first Thank You Note Rodeo.

I love that card.  I’m keeping that card. If a small roofing company can get it right, we should all be able to.

Firing off a thank you email, thumbing a “thx” text, or leaving a hurried voicemail of “thanks so much” is a start.  But businesses would be wise to embrace the old school charm of a hand-written note of appreciation for their customers.  It’s an elegant loop closing gesture that elevates your reputation. 

Whether it’s thanking “Papa” for the token finsky on your b-day, or a customer for their business, make like Wayne Newton and tell them “Danke Schoen.”  You don’t have to go all Ferris Bueller and serenade your customers on top of a parade float, but a seemingly insignificant thank you note yields significant benefits: loyal customers, repeat business, referrals, and it makes you feel good, too. 

What does all this cost?  About 46 cents.   

Big ROI.