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Surprising Your Customers

Last week my 14-year-old got her braces off. After several years of teeth expanders, retainers, and braces, as of last week, she has beautiful, straight teeth.

At the end of her orthodontic appointment, the staff at the clinic sang to her, a lively tune called “You’ve Got Your Braces Off!” They gave her a helium-filled balloon that said “Congratulations!” They also gave her a treat bag filled with foods that had been forbidden when her teeth were covered in wire: microwave popcorn, a Snickers bar, lots of chewy Sunburst candies, and other sugary delights.

All that fanfare was a grand surprise. We had no idea my daughter’s new grin would be celebrated so creatively. It made us laugh, smile, and nearly cry.

As a business writer, what can you do to surprise your readers? What kind of unexpected treats can you provide to bring them delight? Here are a few ideas:

  1. Deliver early. If a customer is expecting your proposal by the end of the day on Friday, get it there on Thursday or early on Friday.
  2. Do the work for your readers. For example, instead of asking “How do you want to handle this situation?” offer several alternatives. Rather than writing “Call me to schedule,” call your reader to schedule. Instead of sending a link to a long document that you know your reader will print, send a printed copy.
  3. Send useful information to customers, clients, executives, peers, and others. “Here’s an article on _____, which I know you are interested in” is a welcome message. Marketing expert Marcia Yudkin recently sent a valuable article, “33 Keys to Thriving During a Recession,” to all her newsletter subscribers–and invited them to pass it on.
  4. Surprise your readers with something of value: helpful tips, a calculation chart, a relevant quotation, a useful analysis. In my newsletter article, “Add Zing to Your Writing,” I attached a PDF of a card-sized reminder of the main points. It was worth the few minutes to make the card to be able to offer my readers an unexpected tool.

Do you have ideas for surprising your customer-readers? Please share them.

Syntax Training

Posted by Lynn Gaertner Johnson
By Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston has helped thousands of employees and managers improve their business writing skills and confidence through her company, Syntax Training. In her corporate training career of more than 20 years, she has worked with executives, engineers, scientists, sales staff, and many other professionals, helping them get their messages across with clarity and tact.

A gifted teacher, Lynn has led writing classes at more than 100 companies and organizations such as MasterCard, Microsoft, Boeing, Nintendo, REI, AARP, Ledcor, and Kaiser Permanente. Near her home in Seattle, Washington, she has taught managerial communications in the MBA programs of the University of Washington and UW Bothell. She has created a communications course, Business Writing That Builds Relationships, and provides the curriculum at no cost to college instructors.

A recognized expert in business writing etiquette, Lynn has been quoted in "The Wall Street Journal," "The Atlantic," "Vanity Fair," and other media.

Lynn sharpened her business writing skills at the University of Notre Dame, where she earned a master's degree in communication, and at Bradley University, with a bachelor's degree in English. She grew up in suburban Chicago, Illinois.

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