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Birthday Wishes Build Business

The other day was our English springer spaniel's 11th birthday. In the busyness of my life, I had not remembered it. But I received a wonderful email reminder from our veterinarian at Aurora Veterinary Hospital in Seattle, Washington.

The subject line, "Happy Birthday to Hope!" surprised and delighted me–not to mention reminding me of my dog's birthday.

Bordered by balloons and a dog with a happy, healthy dog smile, the message read:

Dear Lynn,

Birthdays are a perfect time to celebrate the animals we love. We want to celebrate the joy Hope brings to all our lives on this special day.

Happy Birthday from your friends at AURORA VETERINARY HOSPITAL.

This year, help us give Hope the gift of good health!

Let's Celebrate!

I got the message. I gave Hope special treats for her birthday and sat down with my calendar to schedule Hope's next physical exam.

Birthday wishes can build business. What kind of good wishes can you send to inspire a positive response from your customers, clients, and others?

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.

9 comments on “Birthday Wishes Build Business”

  • I’ve gotten a thank you note from a server in a high end steak house. It was at the height of (in the depths of?) the recession. I still remember it.

    You’ve covered this before but I will say again, in the wake of a death written condolences are extremely meaningful. Receiving a note from my vet with a paw print of my recently deceased cat and a personalized message was extremely meaningful.

    Another communication that comes to mind (from high school!) is a clip out of the paper sent to me from my insurance agent. He had seen a picture and write up of my accomplishment and sent it on. I was thrilled to get it.

    All thanks with very small gifts (a $5 card for coffee or something like) for a client referral are welcome. My main coffee cup at work is a large thank you mug from my dentist (with his name, web address and number) received after friend went in upon my recommendation. I love it because it is so big I don’t have to go refill it all the time and it it has something hot in it, my knuckles don’t get burnt using the handle. I think kindly of the office every day as I use it. It was thoughtful and well designed.

    I think you do have to be a little careful with this one to avoid coming off as stalkerish. I am referring to the stories of a retailer sending a coupon for diapers to a household after a pregnancy test was purchased using a loyalty card. Such leaps can be hurtful and drive business away.

  • Jennifer, thank you for the wonderful, rich comment! You shared great examples of how reaching out to customers can store happy thoughts in their minds.

    I was not sure from your comment whether your cat had passed away recently. (I believe “recent” may have been relevant only to the example you were sharing.) In any case, please accept my condolences on losing your beloved pet.

    I always appreciate hearing from you.


  • Just to let you know that birthday wishes from businesses are not universally appreciated. I rarely give out my birthday to businesses because this is a key piece of information that can lead to identity theft. (If someone has your birthday and your Social Security number, or in some cases just your name, birthday and your zipcode, they can do serious identity-theft damage.) And if a company that did have my actual birthday for some reason and used it to send me a birthday card, I would consider it a misuse of the information.
    that I trusted them with.

    I realize this may make me sound like a bad-tempered Scrooge, but anyone reading Lynn’s post who decided to adopt a birthday-greetings policy at their company should understand that it might have some unintended consequences from people who value their privacy. In some industries (healthcare, financial services) it might even be against the law.

  • I have sent a lot of thank you notes in my life time. I remember after having attended a dinner party in a home I sent a thank you note. The person who receive it thought it was the best thing since sliced bread. She said she had never thought about sending thank you notes to events she had attended.

  • Years ago my mother received a lovely thank-you note from a friend she had invited to my wedding. The friend thanked my parents for including her in such a special event and congratulated my parents on acquiring a fine young man as a son-in-law. My mother said she had never heard of anyone sending a note like that, but she paid it forward many, many times and told others to do so as well. Thank you notes are always in good taste.

  • Marcia, your response is enlightening. The company I work for sells greeting cards to businesses, so it’s nice to hear the both sides of the story.

    Lynn, what amuses me about your post is that I cannot recall the last time I received a birthday card from a company I do business with, yet all three of my cats get separate birthday emails from the vet, plus a Christmas card!

    The most personalized greeting card I receive (holiday cards aside) is my employment anniversary card from the company’s owners each year. Rather than just handing it to me at my desk, they mail it so I have a pleasant little surprise waiting for me at home.

  • Stacey’s comments remind me of a particularly clever bit of business communication. The kennel where my parents board their dogs takes a picture of each dog boarded during the year in a holiday scene. We all laughed and laughed the first year we saw the holiday card my parents received that included a picture of snow men with the dogs’ faces poking through. Very personalized and soemthing that would be appreciated by most pet lovers.

    And, Lynn, my unclear use of the word “recently” did mean, my beloved cat of 15 years died recently (this summer.) Thank you for your condolences. We never have long enough with those we love, regardless of if they were born with fur or skin.

  • Thank you for stopping by with a comment, George, Marcia, Jackie, Mary, Stacey, and Jennifer.

    George, I love envisioning your collection of glasses.

    Marcia, thanks for expressing the other side of the story. I would be surprised if sending birthday greetings were against the law for an industry. I received a card from my chiropractor on a milestone birthday. Since he hadn’t sent one before, I believe he may just send them for special years. My previous dentist also sent a card, although his doing so did not make me stay with him when I was not happy with his dental practice.

    Jackie, great example. I bet the woman who received your card began sending them herself.

    Mary, thanks for your example of another happy story involving a thank-you.

    Stacey, I like the surprise anniversary greeting from your employer waiting for you at home.

    Jennifer, your funny example reminded me of something our previous vet used to do for our previous dog: He would send a reminder card that Chica was due for a treatment, and a face shot of her appeared on the postcard. We always enjoyed seeing our pet on the card. Again, please accept my sympathy on the recent passing of your beloved cat.


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