Although we possess more tools than ever for instantaneous communication, we tend to neglect some of the niceties that have elevated human interaction for centuries. Case in point: the handwritten thank you note.
Sure, there's still the habit of thanking one another for a task completed or favor granted. But all too often, any signs of gratitude are reduced to a "Thanks" at the end of an email. That's not enough, especially in a business context. In a world where millions of people send emails (if they send any sort of message), mailing an old-fashioned note -- preferably written in a distinctive hand, on a unique card -- can cement a vital relationship.
What sort of situations call for a note? Certainly the completion of a big project. Some people also opt to send a personal "Thank You" when they receive payment for a sizable invoice, or after a business partner does something exceptional. If your design firm toiled through a week of sleepless nights to deliver a mission-critical project on deadline, for example, that definitely calls for a note -- especially if the designers had to do something innovative in order to accomplish the project's goals.
Others don't wait until a project is complete, opting to send a heartfelt "Thank You" when the contract is first signed. This can prove an excellent way of boosting morale ahead of a grinding work schedule.
Handwritten thank you notes are also an excellent way of letting disappointed contacts down easy. Let's say a former business partner knows you're looking for a new Web developer, and sends over a friend to interview for the position. The friend might not be the best fit, and in the aftermath you're indecisive over how to best express the rejection to your former partner. In that case (and many similar to it), a note expressing gratitude for the referral -- "Thanks so much for sending him my way. Hopefully, we can find something for him in the future" -- is a good way of ensuring all bridges remain unburned.
Whatever the circumstances, a key factor is timeliness: if you wait to send a card until several months after a big event, it blunts the effectiveness of the gesture.
A thank you note sent in a business context doesn't have to be lengthy. In fact, keeping it short is ideal, but make sure to describe in a little detail why you're sending the note (e.g., "Thanks so much for your hard work on the museum account. Your attention to detail really saved the day."). You may want to custom-print blank cards with your company's logo, or you could choose a pre-made design of some sort; whichever option you choose, keep in mind that your grateful client, partner, or vendor may put the card out for public display.
While a handwritten note isn't warranted in all circumstances -- an email "Thank You" is still perfectly fine for many daily transactions -- it will (almost) always brighten the recipient's day. And considering how much our relationships are based on emotion, anything that puts people in a good frame of mind can only benefit you.
Janet Odgis is the President and Creative Director of Odgis + Co, an award-winning certified woman-owned design firm based in New York City. For 30 years she has worked with some of the world's most prestigious corporations reinventing ways to define and express their brand. We Make Business Beautiful.