The Lost Art of a Thank-You Culture
Technology is great. It has fueled innovation, increased reach to larger customer audiences, and provided broader product access to everyone. However, we know that sometimes simplicity is powerful. In all of our racing to be best and first to win the customer, the art of a simple verbal thank you has been lost. Sincere appreciation for a customer’s business is one of the most basic, inexpensive, time-honored methods of relationship building, but just like the thank-you note, it has become a forgotten, lost art.
Loyalty programs are experiencing upheaval on every front. The airline industry kicked things off in the late 80s, and now nearly every large consumer business has a loyalty program. What was the original intent of these programs? Since it's nearly impossible to compete on price and product alone, as simple as it sounds, sincerely saying thank you to your customers informs them that they're truly valued and appreciated.
While this is an old concept, it has lost its place in our digitally driven world. As the customer experience continues to push its way to the front of retail and hospitality strategies as one of the most valuable tools to gain and keep loyal customers, thanking customers at the point of conversion is critical. In a survey by TD Bank, 84 percent of people said they prefer an in-person thank you. The survey also revealed that a face-to-face thank you wins over all other methods for people of all ages.
When a customer takes the time to drive to your store, shop and wait in line to complete their purchase, unless you have something that no other retailer has (which is rarely the case), they're giving you a portion of their most valuable asset. Not only are they exchanging their hard-earned dollars, but they're giving you time. Awareness and acknowledgement of this takes nothing when a culture of thanks is in place.
I can’t tell you how many retailers I've shopped where the front-line associate manning the register says absolutely nothing when the transaction is completed. They simply complete the transaction and move their attention to the next person in line. Out of habit, I say thank you, but really, they should be saying thank you. Thank you for your patronage and thank you for keeping our business alive, for without you, valuable customers, we wouldn't be able to move forward.
Two of the best at this old-fashioned, genuine thank-you culture are Hobby Lobby and, of course, Chick-fil-A. But then, these example companies already have a culture of service that's clearly baked into their employee onboarding training manual and comes from the top down. Of course, they have plenty of competitors that sell craft supplies and chicken, but they're among the few remaining brands that have imbedded this simple, repeated action into their overall customer experience.
Why wouldn’t you thank the customer, even if the service you're providing is what they came for? In our melting pot of different languages and cultures, thanks and appreciation are universal. Not to mention, studies have shown the psychological effect when appreciation and gratitude are shown often creates a natural ripple effect, causing the behavior to spread from person to person and leaving the recipient with a positive, lasting opinion of the brand. In fact, the action of a thank you can change behavior and inspire further word-of-mouth good will toward the company.
A thank-you culture must originate from top leadership, be imbedded into employee training, and be executed with inflexible obsession. This simple, inexpensive lost art can reap boundless rewards in the noisy, cluttered retail and hospitality landscapes where all companies are looking for the customer experience edge over fierce competition.
Linda Mihalick is a lecturer in the department of Merchandising and Digital Retailing at the College of Merchandising, Hospitality and Tourism at the University of North Texas. She's also the senior director of the Global Digital Retailing Research Center at UNT.
Related story: The Cost of Instant Gratification