"Gratitude is the fairest blossom which springs from the soul." -- Henry Ward Beecher
Business consultant and trainer Vince DiCecco agrees, reminding us that expressing appreciation needn't cost a lot of money, or a lot of time, but it can make a huge, positive difference.
"In one of the first seasons of the hit reality TV show Survivor, participant Gervase Peterson recalled a saying his grandfather often used: “If you want to be heard, speak up. If you want to be seen, stand up. If you want to be appreciated, shut up!” Obviously, it stayed with me and made me wonder if those words of wisdom didn’t offer some meaningful application to the successfully managed business. And, indeed, I conclude that it does, in terms not necessarily of shutting up, but by knowing when and how to express appreciation effectively.
I believe “being appreciated” to be a fundamental human need—as vital as the air we breathe, feeling safe, belonging. It is uncommon, though, to hear someone outwardly expect appreciation for something they’ve done—probably because they fear if they demand it, the words or acts of appreciation will be obligatory and, therefore, insincere and meaningless. Still, I don’t know of a single soul who doesn’t relish—either outwardly or inwardly—words of praise and thanks. Yet, in order to be appreciated, I believe one needs to know how to appreciate others first.
Apply appreciation wisely
Who are the people that deserve hearing how much you appreciate them? Your customers? Yep, that’s a given. Your employees? Of course. Your suppliers? It couldn’t hurt. Your competitors? Well, I wouldn’t overtly express your appreciation of them, but there is something to be said about how they help you stay sharp as an industry leader.
So, when you think about it, no one is excluded from the potential list of people you could appreciate. If you made a list of people you would like to have appreciate you and your efforts, I imagine the list would be similar if not identical. But where does the appreciation exchange cycle begin, and how do you “keep it real?” It begins with you and depends on you.
When a customer’s actions or employee’s work is something you would like to see on a continuing basis, you do not want to leave that reoccurrence to chance. You must recognize and reward it. When someone’s contribution is exceptional, you must encourage and nurture that excellence.
A simple recipe for appreciation
Expressing appreciation is the skill of giving recognition and encouragement to people whose behavior helps you achieve your goals and objectives. An effective sign of appreciation is more, though, than a pat on the back or a casual “thank you.” Appreciation should provide information that helps others understand what it was that helped you, what it took on their part to contribute, and what it meant to you personally.
To be effective, expressing sincere appreciation—either verbally or in writing—should contain the following three elements: specific reference to the action you appreciated, acknowledgement of the personal qualities the individual exhibited, and the resulting benefit to you or your organization.
When you make specific reference to the appreciated person’s actions, it makes the credit you are extending to them believable and memorable. You give value to their contribution, such that they may be inclined to repeat the action in the future.
When you comment on their personal qualities, you let them know what character traits you value and you individualize the expressed appreciation. When you mention the resulting benefit to you or your organization, others see the tangible results of their efforts.
A business owner may write this in a short note to a valuable employee: “Karin, thank you for reorganizing the graphics sample room. You took the initiative to sort all the signs and divide them into groups by media and type. Your conscientious attention to detail will certainly save our company time and money in terms of researching the right graphic options for our customers to choose from.”
Timing is everything
As you can see, it takes little time to write a short note or compose some kind words to share at an all-employee meeting. The key is to deliver your appreciation as soon after the action as possible.
Attaching small rewards such as movie tickets or a gift card will have your people seeking opportunities to get recognized again. If you want to encourage them to work well as a team, your appreciation may be best communicated by surprising them with an informal company get-together. An impromptu ice cream social, after-work bowling party or miniature golf outing is an inexpensive way to foster team spirit. Just be sure to link the appreciation gesture with the positive contribution.
Be careful, though, to avoid the mistake of expressing appreciation for every little thing that happens around the office. You run the risk of appearing to be flippant or patronizing and, additionally, undermine the value of your subsequent appreciation of truly outstanding performance. Reserve expressing appreciation in this special format for when the work or actions of someone whose performance matters to you exceeds expectations, consistently meets expectation, or meets expectations not usually met by that person.
Becoming a role model for customers
When you invoke this approach of exhibiting appreciation with customers, don’t be surprised to see them expressing their appreciation in a similar manner. As an example, consider this exchange with a customer at the time you deliver his order:
“Anthony, thank you giving us sufficient lead time to produce this job. It proved to be challenging. I appreciated the trust and confidence you had in our company to produce the signs on time and to your specifications. When we are given the time to properly plan and create an order, the end result is truly a work of art and a satisfied customer.”
“Hey, I should be thanking you. These signs are exactly what I was looking for. Look at the precise detail in our logo’s complicated design. The level of quality and professionalism that went into it is quite evident. When I can give an important job to a business I trust and they come through for me, it saves me a lot of time and worry.”
If you are the recipient of a simple, yet heartfelt thank you from a client, politely ask them to be specific about what they most valued, what qualities they most appreciated, and what the resulting benefit was. As a matter of fact, that would be a perfect time to ask for a testimonial letter on the customer’s letterhead and an accompanying photo, if you didn’t think to capture one.
More than three-quarters of sales organizations do not solicit or use testimonial letters to show and win over prospects. Yet overwhelmingly, in surveys of buyers, the factor that tips the scales in favor of successful vendors is the industry or market reputation they enjoy. Customers tend to believe what someone else says about a company over the puffy, self-serving sales literature the marketing staff issues about itself.
If you have to personally draft the testimonial letter for an appreciative customer, so be it. Your good customers won’t mind if you assume that chore from them, provided they have an opportunity to edit and approve the final version. Besides, that way you are assured the testimonial letter is written in the most effective format—specific example, desirable qualities and resulting benefit.
Lead by example
I know of no better way of encouraging your employees to provide exceptional service and express their appreciation to customers than to set the example for them.
If you do not now have an imitative program that shows employees your appreciation, develop one. It doesn’t have to be expensive or elaborate. The time-honored traditions of “employee of the month” or holiday bonuses certainly work, but their impact has become negligible over the years. In fact, surveys have shown that employees often consider monetary bonuses as part of their compensation packages instead of special or outside-of-the-norm. At the very least, an occasional hand-written thank you card can make as meaningful an impact as cash.
Recently, I heard of a business owner who made his Florida vacation condo available to his top employees for one week of their choice. I consider this a very generous benefit that cannot be easily matched by competing employers. Rewarding hard workers with paid time off, dinner or golf at your private club—or even the company’s season sports tickets—certainly will be long remembered.
Make your expression of appreciation special. Who knows? In return, you may be the most appreciated boss your people have ever worked for. Good luck."