I started my career with Sprint as a retail rep and watched customers enthusiastically line up at our door to purchase the first camera phone on the market (Everyone LOVED the Sanyo 5300…many of you probably carried one). I also stood in a Radio Shack store right after the Sprint/Nextel merger and patiently accepted critical feedback on how terrible service had become at this particular customer’s home. Over my 9 year career, you could say that I have sat side by side with my customers on quite the roller-coaster ride.
It’s no secret…we have had more than our fair share of troubles, yet we have had this fantastically loyal group of customers who actively made the choice to stick with us through it all. After a conversation with a friend in our base marketing group in early 2010, I found out that many of these customers felt under appreciated and there wasn’t really much we could do for them…they were just loyal people who didn’t expect anything in return for that (yet, I owed every paycheck and my entire career to each and every one of them).
I’ve long believed that meaningful communication is at the heart of my company’s existence. Though we’ve continually innovated the way you do that over the past few decades, the need has never changed. Finally in July of 2010, I talked 20 co-workers into sitting down with me and finding a way to let these customers know how much we appreciated them. We have hundreds of marketing programs and cool ways to contact people given our heritage as a communicator….I wanted to do something different that would be recognized. We were going to send these people hand-written thank you notes.
Through 2011, the program experienced viral growth, quickly turning our group of 20 people into over 300 each month. Employees were telling other employees and they would show up on the first Thursday of the month to help write. We went from a few thousand hand-written notes in 2010 to almost 50K in 2011. At some point in 2011, Dan (our CEO) caught wind of the program. At an employee all-hands that November, he announced that the entire company would be involved for 2012 and wanted to send 500K notes!
As of this writing, we’re over 400K notes this year and will easily blow away the 500K goal. Obviously, we still have a long way to go in thanking everyone in our base, but Dan recently recognized this program as something that sets Sprint apart from our competitors in a talk with Forbes Magazine. In the talk when asked if there’s “anything special you do to connect with customers” he quotes:
“Handwritten letters. I know it’s kind of old-fashioned, but I think in today’s digital world customers notice and appreciate that we take time to write letters to them. One employee and his team started a letter-writing campaign, thanking customers based upon their longevity. They would do it every Thursday, and it’s now mushroomed, and it’s become “Thank You Thursdays” company-wide. Our employees sit down with a list of customers, which includes something about the customers, like how long they have been with Sprint, and they hand-write letters thanking the customers for doing business with Sprint.”
Though I can claim credit for the “Idea,” it took the hard work and program management of some very dedicated Sprint employees to grow it to the scale it’s achieved today (not to mention the sore wrists of thousands more across the company). Aside from the obvious 1×1 customer impact there were many other lessons learned from this that I’ll try to cover over the course of time on this blog:
- Encouraging a direct connection between all employees and the front line
- Enabling any employee to solve any issue
- Breaking the rules of normal process at a fortune 500 company
- Building culture by bringing people together for something they believe in
- The fine line of making something “required” vs. intrinsically motivating people to participate
- The lost art of hand-writing….and how to deal with writer’s cramp!
Until then, if you’re a customer who feels like you’re deserving of a hand written note, drop me a line….I’m more than happy to get a note in the mail and offer my commitment to help if there’s anything I can do to make your experience better.
UPDATE: Fierce Wireless picked up the story as well….cool!
UPDATE 2: USA Today joins the coverage :-)