How to Write Thank You Notes

A few posts back I wrote about what I believe are the two most important words in business: “Thank You.” These two, simple words can make someone’s day, or make someone feel pretty unappreciated (think how you feel when you hold a door for someone and they don’t acknowledge it…)

A good thank you is just common decency, but a GREAT thank you… that’s game changing — both for the person giving thanks, and the one receiving it. But how do you separate a good ol’ normal thank you from a GREAT thank you? It’s all about delivery, which can be quite complicated these days. 

Whether you’re a person interviewing for a job, a company looking to stand out from your competitors, or even just a kickass person looking to brighten a friend or colleague’s day, the way you say thank you matters. Do you say it? Write it? Text it? Snapchat it? E-mail it? Facebook message it? Paperless Post it? Edible arrange it? Dozen roses it? Do you send an Elvis impersonator to serenade someone? (I had a boss who did that once as a tactic to get in the door at a company… didn’t work, but damned if it wasn’t creative). The answer, of course, depends on the situation, but more than that it’s about personal preference and style. There certainly is no shortage of options.

For the sake of this post, I want to explore how the speed at which we presently live is impacting the way we show gratitude. Thanks to technology, everything in our lives is instantaneous now, and as such, we’ve become accustomed to the immediate gratification that affords. “I have to wait 10 minutes for my uber? Screw that… what gets here in 3?” The other day I found myself annoyed at my computer because Firefox was loading slower than Chrome does… by a few seconds. Really? C’mon. 

But that’s the on demand world we live in now. Like it or not, it’s not going to get any slower… Facebook ThankYou Bots rejoice!  

Personally, I’ve always been a huge fan of the handwritten thank you note. You meet someone, you have a good chat, and you surprise them with a handwritten note delivered to their office. That’s usually a pretty good way to stand out amongst the rest. At LivingSocial, for example, there was a time when we experimented with handwriting notes to merchants and customers, and they went over swimmingly, but it’s a hard thing to sustain as a company scales. One of my favorite companies, Framebridge, let’s consumers order custom framing for pictures on their phone, which they then print, frame, and ship back to you with a handwritten note complimenting your art and thanking you for your purchase. How many online companies have you ordered from that do that? Willing to bet you can count the # of handwritten thank you’s received by a company on one finger… if that. 

The handwritten thank you note has been my go-to since I began my professional career, and still is. But this year, as I found myself applying to many a place, I felt differently than years past: this past year I questioned whether or not the time it takes for a thank you note to be delivered would “cost me.” Say you interview on a Thursday with a company and put your note in the mail that evening. Might not get there ’til Monday or Tuesday of the following week. In startup land, that’s 72 hours in which a hiring decision very likely could be made. Do employers expect a thank you in 24 hours? Do they care how they receive it? Could the fact that they didn’t get one within 24 hours be a detriment to your candidacy? One would hope not, and many could argue that a company willing to abandon hiring a talented, preferred candidate simply on a technicality is being fickle, but do you really want to take that stance? 

This year, I followed up with one company I interviewed with in San Francisco on a Friday by sending 14 thank you notes via FedEx once back in DC on Saturday, paying premium to ensure they arrived on Monday. Upon being hired, I learned that there was a Slack conversation internally about the gesture, because apparently snail mail thank you notes are pretty rare in Silicon Valley. For another company, with which I interviewed on a very tight timeline because I had another offer on the table, I abandoned the handwritten note altogether and sent an Amazon Surprise video of myself wearing the tee shirt they’d given me, thanking them for their time and expressing my interest. For another, I opted for PaperlessPost because I knew the person I spoke to traveled like crazy and I couldn’t guarantee that snail mail would get to them in a reasonable amount of time. It’s getting harder and harder to feel comfortable relying on the handwritten note and US Postal Service — there’s just enough uncertainty to make you anxious, an anxious uncertainty we don’t get with e-mail. 

Will we ever be able to feel comfortable writing and mailing handwritten notes w/o anxiety? 

Last week I read an article about a company called Bond that has me very intrigued. They are a company based in New York that allows consumers / companies to type thank you notes on their site, just the way PaperlessPost does, but then they have a machine that hand writes the thank you note and they mail it out for you within hours of submitting your request. I ordered a free sample, which arrived today in the form of a “hand/machine written” note from the CEO, Sonny Caberwal. Real ink. Real stamp. Real cool! 

That being said, there’s two things I’m grappling with here: 

1) I’m not so sure how I feel (yet) about typing a handwritten note that then gets “written” by a machine. The process looks really cool, and when you think about it, the recipient probably has zero clue what your handwriting looks like anyways. So long as it’s real ink, it’s genuine to them! But still, I feel kind of sheepish and deviant. 

2) While this doesn’t necessarily solve the problem of the 2-3 day USPS delivery time, it definitely makes it much easier to create those notes! I could have saved boatloads of time on that 14-person delivery to San Fran that I referenced had I just written the notes at bond.co while in the airport waiting for my flight rather than handwriting and shipping them via FedEx on Saturday. At $3.50/recipient, it would have worked out to be just as cost effective as well. 

What really intrigues me about Bond is that they are trying to retain the authenticity of a different era by leveraging the efficiency of the present day. There aren’t that many companies doing that. And while there’s certainly credibility behind an argument that “Bond is no different than a Paperless Post card delivered,” there’s also something to be said for the unique personalization capabilities it offers.

At the end of the day, I’m torn about whether or not I’d use Bond for my thank you notes, but it was a cool enough concept that it compelled me to order a free sample and write about it… I suggest you do the same!

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