Gratitude is a Business Strategy

By: Ilan Mann

September 18, 2020

Gratitude: you might know it as a hashtag, or an Indigo mug, or a word your mom has crocheted on her wall. What you may not know is that gratitude is also a business strategy—because a grateful business is a business that customers return to again and again.

Consider a 2017 research article entitled Undervaluing Gratitude: Expressers Misunderstand the Consequences of Showing Appreciation. In it, researchers Amit Kumar and Nicholas Epley demonstrated how we often assume expressing gratitude will be taken awkwardly by the recipient of our affections. In their study, participants expressing gratitude underestimated how happily surprised the recipients of gratitude would be and overestimated how awkward they would feel. Which is too bad, because the researchers also found that both expresser and recipient reported positive emotions and better well-being because of gratitude.

The simple fact is that people love being thanked and love thanking—even if, on the surface, they think they don’t.

The power of gratitude in building loyalty

Decades of research has confirmed this, as Harvard Medical School attests. “Gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness,” they write, and “Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships.” Your mom was on to something.

But before we call your mom the next Jeff Bezos, it’s worth asking the question: how can we apply the positive emotions of gratitude to a business strategy?

Let’s start by considering how expressing gratitude builds loyalty and commitment in stakeholders—whether customers, clients, or donors. Gratitude is motivating. In Globoforce’s Spring 2014 Employee Workforce Mood Tracker Survey, 86 percent of employees recognized at work felt more motivated to do their jobs. 85{c5c42d2e0b68f182649ca85478c9eaed180e8fe94e932f32b8af828d359c4a57} of employees said recognition added humanity to the workplace. And those who express gratitude are more extraverted, agreeable, open, and conscientious, leading to more employee friendships at the office and, consequently, more long-term commitment to the company.

Now apply that thinking to your key stakeholders, whether your biggest donors or your most critical customers. The same outcomes that gratitude generates in employees are just as powerful and relevant. A customer or donor who feels deeply appreciated will feel more motivated to continue working with you. A customer or donor who finds you agreeable, open, and conscientious has found a comfortable place to park their hard-earned dollars.

And in a world where AI and technology are replacing the human element, we know customers still prefer human interactions—and want to do business with brands they view as “human.” One study conducted by Forrester Consulting found that consumers who perceive a brand as human are more than twice as likely to love the brand, nearly twice as likely to purchase from that brand, and nearly twice as likely to recommend it. What’s not to love about being twice as effective with your sales? Gratitude brings humanity to your business interactions. When customers feel like appreciated people, rather than numbers, they come back.

The best part about gratitude as a business strategy?

How easy it is to implement.

Becoming an organization that intentionally expresses gratitude to its customers, donors, or clients doesn’t require rethinking your growth plan. It doesn’t require a million-dollar marketing campaign. It doesn’t require a guy in a just-too-well-fitted suit clicking through a PowerPoint and telling you how Tik Tok is the next Amazon.

Actually, all it takes is a pen, a piece of paper, and a good old-fashioned thank-you note.

Don’t take our word for it. Here’s etiquette expert Dan Post Senning:

“When I get a handwritten letter, I’m excited to open it. The art of the postage stamp, the feel of the paper, the graphic quirks of a friend’s handwriting: There is simply nothing as personal as a handwritten note. In a stack of bills and flyers, it’s a treasure in a sealed packet, full of promise and potential. It is a visceral reminder of someone far away… Handwritten notes still have a personality, warmth and, when needed, gravitas that computer screens don’t.”

Why do handwritten notes deliver a gratitude punch that no other medium can?

  1. They take just a little bit more effort. It’s easy to quickly type out an email or a text on your phone. You can jam out either of those while you’re sitting on the toilet. But a handwritten note is tailored. The uniqueness of each note and the effort of the sender says to the recipient, “I cared enough about you to write this down.”
  2. They can’t be missed, and they stick. How easy it is to delete an email or miss it entirely. Our inboxes are sources of stress, not sources of delight. But a handwritten letter is unignorable. In a pile of junk mail, there’s no joy quite like seeing a real note—they will be opened, every time. As Dan Post Senning puts it, “You can’t hold digital thanks in your hands the way you can hold a note. When was the last time you printed out an e-card? Right. Email is read and deleted. A mailed note is seen again and again on a desk or counter. Would you rather your thanks be remembered or deleted?”
  3. They are authentic and human. Penmanship is the child of personality. When we read someone’s handwriting, we can feel them on the other side of the ink—and we can sense the authenticity of their words, considering that precious time was taken to put them to paper. Earlier we talked about how customers want to do business with “human” organizations. The sense of authenticity, humanity, and personalization produced by handwritten letters offers an incomparable human touch. And that will keep the recipient committed to you for a long time to come.

Building an authentic, long-term, loyal relationship with your stakeholders is as easy as thanking them, again and again, for being part of your work. And all it takes is a handwritten note.

The best part? Handwriting letters are easier than you think

Gratitude is a winner, but let’s address the elephant-shaped pile of paper in the room. “Of course, I’d love to write handwritten notes to everyone,” you’re thinking, “But who has the time?”

Good news: you don’t need the time. Here’s how.

Oh, and we almost forgot:

Thanks for reading.