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Leave a Note to Surprise and Delight Customers

I received a delightful note when I found my seat at the Arena Stage Theater in Washington, D.C., last week. I was on vacation and visiting the theater for the first time.

An envelope addressed to Ms. Lynn Gaertner-Johnston lay propped on my upturned seat. Inside it were two small wrapped chocolates (dark chocolate, and milk chocolate with toffee crisp) and this typed, hand-signed note:

Dear Ms. Lynn Gaertner-Johnston,

We are excited that you are joining us for your first show at Arena Stage. Please enjoy this sweet treat on us. We hope you enjoy your show. Do not hesitate to ask our staff members for anything you need. We look forward to seeing you back for another show soon!

Best wishes,


Molly Last-Name


I am a sucker for a surprising, individualized message, and I loved this one. It welcomed me and acknowledged my first visit to the theater. It included sweets for my husband and me. It spelled my name correctly! And there it was, waiting for me on my ticketed seat.

When I visit Washington, D.C., again, I will be certain to check out the productions at the Arena Stage. Not just because of this note, of course. But because of the entire experience of attending the theater and seeing a terrific production of A Raisin in the Sun. No, a note like this can’t make the difference when other parts of the experience fail the customer, but it can take a positive experience to a special high.

As a customer or a client, have you been surprised by a customer service gesture like the note left for me? Or from the other perspective, what do you do to delight and surprise your customers, clients, or colleagues?  Please share your examples. (Student readers: Think of things you might do to delight others in your future work.)

Here are other blog posts I’ve written on happy customer surprises:


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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.

13 comments on “Leave a Note to Surprise and Delight Customers”

  • Actually, I have a timely example from the dissatisfied consumer perspective. I subscribe to one of the many meal prep delivery services (e.g., Blue Apron, etc.), which delivers a box of pre-selected ingredients for a set number of meals every week. The box includes several freezer packs to keep the ingredients cold during shipping. In this week’s shipment, I received a rather moldy yellow onion. At first, I considered throwing it away and calling it a wash; half of the onion was still usable. My financial conscience got the better of me, however, as the service costs a decent bit of money each week. I wrote a brief note to the customer service contact listed on the enclosed recipe cards stating the issue and that it was merely an “FYI”–the total length was three sentences, and I didn’t request a replacement, credit to my account, or make any grand statements like, “I will NEVER use this service if this is what you send me for $x per week!”

    I received the following note the next business day:

    “So sorry to hear that your order wasn’t up to our usual standards this week! We fully understand that it defeats the point of our service for you to receive anything less than 100% pitch-perfect ingredients in your meal kits. We’ll be relaying this to our operations team so we can investigate why this issue occurred and how to ensure this doesn’t occur in any future deliveries.

    In the meantime, I’d like to make this up to you, so I’ve gone ahead and dropped $15 of credit into your account. I hope this can help make up for your experience in some way!

    If there’s anything more I can do to make this right, please don’t hesitate to let us know! We are always here to help.

    All the best,

    Alyssa LastName
    Customer Experience Associate”

    Long story short, then, I got quite a return for what would’ve cost $1 for me to replace myself at the grocery store. Courtesy goes a long way, whether the experience is positive or negative!

  • My father, a mechanic, always sent handwritten reminders on pre-printed postcards of upcoming inspections to his customers. I remember every month we set an assembly line, my mom would write out the addresses, my dad would put in their information and sign and I got to lick the stamps. UGH! We could definitely see the rewards from our efforts.

  • I am a sucker for such personal messages, also. And I do mean “sucker.” Once I received a product in the mail from a prominent information marketer with “Hi Marcia!” and a smiley face hand-written on the envelope.

    I jumped to the conclusion that the person I had ordered from knew who I was (I am also an infomarketer, so that’s plausible) and used that as a pretext to call him. I then found out that this man’s company wrote that on all their packages and the guy did not know (or care to know) who I was. How mortifying – particularly since jumping on the phone to call someone is something I very rarely do.

  • These days marketing emails to strangers often include “Hi Blank” greetings with smiling emoticons. But to add one to a package! It’s no wonder you concluded that he knew you. He suggested personal knowledge when he marked the envelope with a note and smiley.

    I would have reacted the same way if someone in the business writing arena had sent an envelope marked that way to me.

    What lesson can we take from your story? Perhaps that when we surprise and delight our customers with personal gestures, we need to follow through. He should have communicated delight when he heard from you.

    Thanks for the example, Marcia.


  • Very fascinating stories to read all…further interesting Ms. Lyn’s response to each feedback…inspiring


  • Hi Ms. Lynn
    I continuously follow your post since I signed in, did you ever post any guidance related to covering letter for Resume…please do advise if possible in sometime.


  • I also love this kind of special attentions given to customers! Even if it’s not personalized.

    For example, I once subscribed to a farm brunch for the national holiday. After a few emails, they sent me a letter with the confirmation which included a map to reach the farm.

    But the things that I appreciated the most, were the beautiful big butterfly carved in blue paper that they glued to the outside of the envelope, the heart-shaped paper clips that held everything inside the envelope together, and a couple of candies they put inside the envelope.

    It showed they care for details and in fact the brunch was epic!

  • Hello Deborah and Hasan,

    Thank you for your comments. I apologize for the delay in responding. I have been on vacation in South Carolina.

    Deborah, thanks for your lovely example. The writers certainly succeeded in delighting you.

    Hasan, you asked about cover letters. Please type “cover letter” in the search box, which appears at top right if you read on a large screen, or at the bottom if you read on your mobile phone. You will find three blog posts with advice on writing a cover letter.


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