The 49-Cent Tip

stampsHave you ever written to a CEO or company president about the service you receive at the hands of their employees? I do it all the time, and seldom to complain. In fact, I keep four or five stamped envelopes in my briefcase when I travel, and I replenish the supply regularly.

I started writing these notes when a stamp cost 22 cents. Today, the stamp costs more than double that, but I still send notes. I think of these letters as 49-cent tips, but they have much more value than that.

I write ‘thank you’ notes praising everyone from wait staff to hotel shuttle drivers to flight attendants and gate agents. The notes are matter-of-fact and brief, and never hyped or gushy. I describe a situation and praise the employee for his or her conduct. In fact, it isn’t even necessary for my ‘target’ to be a super performer: Sometimes, all I need to see is someone who is trying really hard; someone I think needs a little encouragement to become a great performer. 


Dear Mr. Kennedy,

I was aboard flight 186 from Anchorage to Seattle today. Weather delayed the flight by 50 minutes, causing a lot of the passengers to miss connections, plus it was an unusually bumpy ride.  That’s not why I’m writing this note, though. Through it all, the cabin crew lead by purser Janet Fujihara remained cool, pleasant and professional. Their upbeat attitude had a very positive impact on what could have been a planeload of very unhappy passengers…


I don’t do this to buy a little extra good karma. In a way, it’s payback.  

During a summer job as a college student, a customer honored me with one of these notes. I never forgot it. In fact, my boss never forgot it, either: He said that he’d never had a commendation from a customer conveyed to him by the company president’s office.

One brief letter can make a lot of people happy, but I also believe that it has its greatest effect on the person I write about. My philosophy is that they’ll ultimately be more customer-focused, treat people better, and maybe even get a small boost during the next pay increase or promotion. I like to think that this is 49 cents that makes peoples’ lives a bit more pleasant.

I’ll usually ask my ‘target’ his or her name and explain why I think they’re going a great job, and want to write a note to the company. Responses range from pleased to surprised to skeptical, and some look for an ulterior motive, but I get the name. Finding the company’s home-office address and handwriting a quick note takes a few minutes. Why not email? When was the last time you sent a handwritten letter? It makes an impression, and is more likely to make the rounds than an email.

Perhaps leading people to provide memorable customer service isn’t just something I do for a living. It’s part of who I am, and you can’t clock out from being you.

One unintended consequence of these quick notes is that, should you cross paths with this person in the future, they’ll likely thank you for the memorable 49-cent tip they received.


Scott H. Lewis is managing director for the CIS region of Signature Europe. A former journalist and public relations counselor, he has provided crisis, public speaking and presentation training to senior executives across Russia, Ukraine and Turkey. He is the author of The Kindness Cure: 52 Weeks to a More Fulfilling Life.  An American, he has lived in Kyiv, Ukraine for more than a decade.

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