Yes, email and texts have eclipsed letters and telephone calls in our global economy. The world has moved on, and email thank you notes are appropriate for many occasions. However, if you have received a gift from a business associate, client, or colleague, business etiquette requires a handwritten note.
All etiquette experts agree on one thing: handwritten thank you notes are brilliant, elegant, and absolutely necessary. When the giver sets aside both time and funds to select and send a special gift, spending 10 minutes and a forever stamp to say thanks is a relationship-building opportunity. Email, Facebook messenger, Snapchat, text, and bitmoji are lightning-fast, but we all know: they’re free and easy, which makes them less valuable as gestures.
So what makes a memorable note? Today I received a timely handwritten thank you note from the organizer of a Global Etiquette training session. My eyes were naturally are drawn to the handwriting because it stood out in the mass of pre-printed envelopes. This envelope had lots of texture, with the return address imprinted on the envelope flap, and the thoughtful note inside was written on custom stationery:
Thank you for coming to train my scholarship students. They enjoyed your International Etiquette session so much, and have already been talking about using your suggestions in their interviews. When they return to campus next week we will be talking about resumes and interviews, so your information was great. I so appreciate the gift of your new book Access to Asia. It was so thoughtful of you to give it to me – and it is such a useful gift for me to have for these students.
With much appreciation,
Susie’s note includes all of the touch points that are so important in a personal thank you note. So what can you take away from Susie’s note to make yours just as special?
1. Send Thanks for a Gift or Gesture: A note should be sent when someone does something special or goes out of their way for you. The note can be as short as three sentences and should be sent when someone:
- Gives you a gift for a holiday, birthday, bar mitzvah, wedding, or baby shower
- Sends you a special delivery of cake balls, flowers, or Korean pears
- Hosts a banquet, party, dinner, shower, or soiree in your honor
- Invites you to a party, concert, symphony, SXSW, opera, gala, or Vienna ball
- Invites you for a stay in their home, beach or lake house, ranch, or yacht
- Writes a business recommendation or reference
- Refers a client or business
2. Invest in Personal Stationery: Clothes may make the man; however, with thank you notes, high quality stationery makes the best impression. Select the best quality stock you can afford, and customize stationery with your monogram or logo. Avoid cute, informal, or over-done designs that don’t translate well across borders.
3. Be Short, Sweet & Specific: Use the following formula: Specifically mention the gift received, the introduction, the gracious act, how they positively impacted you or your business, your future plan, and repeat your appreciation. The note can be short and sweet. ‘Thank you for coming to train my scholarship students’ ‘I am so appreciative of the gift of your new book Access to Asia…’ Be sure to mention why you like the gift: ‘They enjoyed your International Etiquette session so much.’ State your future plans: ‘and it is such a useful gift for me to have for these students’ ‘When they return to campus next week we will be talking about resumes and interviews…’
4. Sign with a Flourish & Mail: Sign with action words like ‘Sincerely’ or ‘Kindest regards,’ which are formal and standard in international circles. Domestically, closing with an informal ‘All my best’ or ‘Best regards’ is common, while ‘Best’ is passé. Mail the note within 24-48 hours.
5. International Gifts: Now, what about those international gifts? Should I text a ‘gift received’ confirmation to the sender before mailing a handwritten note? Can we update analog etiquette rules for digital relationships? I am frequently asked, “Can I skip the handwritten note and just send an email?”
Peter Post, the Chairman of the Board of the Emily Post Institute and author of Essential Manners for Men, and I chatted about this quandary. Peter advises, “Don’t presume an email was successfully received; it may have been blocked by a spam filter or firewall, or end up in someone’s trash folder.”
When a gift is received, send a short text along the lines of “Thanks, received your gift and looking forward to opening it!” Avoid the awkwardness, and send a text before the handwritten note to avoid that dreaded question “Did my package arrive?” This is especially helpful when you expect to have multiple points of contact with the person before the note arrives. Even if you mail a note on the day the gift is received, the speed of Wi-Fi wins every time.
Think of handwritten notes as an opportunity to build the relationship, not an obligation, People open handwritten notes before other mail to save and display them. Digital communication gets deleted and handwritten gets saved. Would you rather be remembered or deleted? In the day of insta-everything, it’s okay to thank twice.