This simple phrase has been called the two most important words in the English language. Like many things that are simple, though, employing it effectively isn’t always easy. Used well, a solid email thank you is a powerful sales and customer service tool that can retain loyal customers, acquire new business, drive referrals, and reinforce the bonds between your company and its clients.
And remembering to thank your colleagues can do wonders for your business relationships—a little gratitude goes a long way.
Should be simple, right? It can be, but thanking customers and colleagues through email has some nuances. Surprisingly, sometimes the best way to say thanks is to keep that gratitude out of your email altogether.
The pitfalls of a two-word email thank you
On the one hand, it does seem so easy, right?
You hit “reply” or “compose” and enter two words: “Thank You.” Send. Done.
The trouble with the extremely short and simple thank you email is that without the nuance of a human voice or eye contact, it might miss the mark. Email can be too stark a medium to be heartfelt.
“So few people pick up the phone or send a quick physical note, that either of those two gestures are sure to make you stand out,” says Noah Parsons, Chief Operating Officer at Palo Alto Software (makers of Outpost) in Eugene, Oregon. “A basic email ‘thank you’ is so easy that it just gets lost in the shuffle.”
What was a sincere expression of gratitude can also be perceived as an inbox-cluttering waste of time—just one more email in an already-overwhelming message count. Or worse, someone might read your two words as a terse conversation stopper. Those two lonely words left on their own might even be perceived as sarcastic or passive aggressive.
Luckily, there are better ways.
Send the right email for the right reason
“When someone does something small for you, or you’re just thanking a work colleague for something in the normal course of business, a simple email thank you is fine,” says Noah. Make the thank you part of a larger message, include specifics about what you’re grateful for, and your email is likely to be better received.
Here are some ways to make saying thanks more intuitive for you, and more meaningful for the receiver.
Always include a thank you in your auto-responders
Including a thank you in all automated customer interactions, such as contact forms, subscriptions, and order confirmations. These interactions can also include a benefit or useful information, such as order summary, shipping estimates, reply expectations, or a quick summary of the benefits someone gets by being on a catalog or email list. Adding a thank you to these interactions is a small way to build and reinforce trust, encourage a positive review of your brand, and remind the customer that they are receiving value from your products and services.
Thank your loyal customers
Acknowledging customer anniversaries and/or company milestones demonstrates that you see the value in your relationship. Instead of just a “thank you for your business” subject line or message body, you instead can dig deeper to give both additional information and enhanced meaning
You don’t have to write a novel in an email, either. Share some details on how you hope you’ve helped them or added something to their lives or operations. Perhaps also offer a special or free item/service as a show of thanks as well.
A referral from a client shows you are excited about the opportunity to work with somebody one of your customers recommended. Thank the referring client, and perhaps include access to a small gift (such as a gift card or a free month’s service, for example).
A new client placing their first order is a special moment. This person is taking a chance on your products and services. Build on that. This is the only chance you’ll get to earn that first order—and use it as a springboard for future interactions and a long-term customer relationship. Think of it as your chance to show the customer that this an exciting opportunity to join a brand that cares and can be trusted and relied upon. Use that initial transaction to reinforce the value your company provides and how this customer is making the right choice in turning to you to fill this particular need.
When a customer criticizes you, they’ve cared enough to call you out. That doesn’t mean you have to show gratitude for abuse and hostility, by the way. However, when a customer makes a sincere constructive criticism about some aspect of your business, tell them you appreciate their speaking out. Even better? When possible, also include a brief summary of how you turned that feedback into positive change—along with how you think that can benefit the customer in a real-world way.
Use holidays and/or set your own customer appreciation days as built-in ways for your business to show gratitude. Some occasions are natural, cultural low-hanging fruit for showing gratitude. Take advantage. It might seem routine, but sometimes the best time to send a thank-you message is when somebody is expecting to receive one, and such occasions are perfect examples of those times.
Thank them just because. Yes, you can tie in a thank-you with expected times, such as Thanksgiving. But the out-of-the-blue gratitude message shows that even in the midst of hectic day-to-day business, tasks, and operations, you know that it’s important to just stop, say thanks, and show your real, sincere appreciation for someone you work with and do business with.
A thank you email can lead into a small request. Utilize this one sparingly and strategically—you don’t want to come off as always saying, “thanks, by the way could you…” The occasional ask, though, is okay. Simple requests might be completing a survey, reviewing a product, telling a friend about you and what you do, entering a giveaway, or joining an event.
If need be, set out some general guidelines on when to thank customers, but Noah suggests that it’s enough to encourage gratitude in day-to-day business.
“We tend not to have guidelines beyond reminding teams to send a thank you when it’s appropriate,” says Noah. “It’s easy to forget to say thank you or express gratitude to key customers. Just a reminder that it’s worth thanking people seems to do the trick.”
Know when to use something other than email
For all the benefits of using email, sometimes it’s not the best way to say thanks. Instead, make a personal phone call (including from management or executives, when appropriate), or send a thank you note (especially a handwritten note) to express your gratitude.
“For customers that you’re sending a thank you to, I think it’s generally better if the note comes from the person/team that the customer usually works with,” says Noah. “There’s a personal touch there that will help continue to build the relationship. Internally, a thank-you from a manager or executive is usually a good idea, especially in a small company where management knows all of the employees. It’s helpful to build those relationships and let people know that their work is not going unnoticed.”
For those times where a brief thank you really is the way to go, use a medium that is meant for in-the-moment brevity, such as online chat (like Slack) or a text message. When possible—and appropriate—an in-person thank-you is also still unparalleled.
“We use Slack a lot internally to recognize team members publicly for the things they do day-to-day,” adds Noah. “We also recently started using a feature in Lattice—the product we use to manage our quarterly reviews—that allows people to share public kudos.”
Given the prevalence of digital communication, a handwritten card, letter, or thank-you note sent in the mail is special. They can be brief but clearly personal, and that extra effort always sticks out to the person receiving it.
When writing a personal note or making a phone call, but sure to use the person’s name, explain why you’re reaching out, and, of course, thank them.
In some circumstances, some merch or a small gift may also be appropriate, says Noah.
“When we want to say thanks to a customer, nothing beats sending out a company t-shirt with a simple hand-written note,” he explains. “Everyone always appreciates that. It even generates cool posts on social media. Internally, an Amazon gift card (printed out) with a hand-written note goes a long way.”
A thank you is always worth it
In the midst of our ever-busier, fast-paced business lives, it can be easy to forget the value of a simple, sincere thank you. However, it’s always worth taking the time to use these two powerful words to reinforce to customers how much you care about them and their business.
Whether in a thank you email, handwritten note, personal call, text, or Slack shout-out, making regular gratitude a regular part of your business can be a great way to grow sales and retain happy customers.