‘Thank You’. Two little words. Two words containing a total of eight letters. As a parent you spend most of your life teaching your children to use the words regularly. As a child, you are constantly reminded of their importance. It is unlikely you have ever looked up the dictionary definition of ‘thank you’ – so I have done so for you – you can thank me later:

1. (adjective)

expressing one’s gratitude or thanks: a thank-you note.
2. (noun)

an expression of thanks, as by saying “thank you”: I never got so much as a thank-you for helping him.

You probably did not need to be told something you already knew (hence you may not want to thank me for sharing this with you). So why am I taking the time to talk about words that you possibly; probably; almost certainly use on a daily basis? Let me explain.

People who know me well know that I am not a fan of the TV programme ‘Undercover Boss’. As predictable as an episode of ‘Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares’, I am always irritated by the naivety of senior business leaders at failing to be aware of what is happening in their own organisations. I refuse to believe that going ‘undercover’ on TV is the right way to finally understand, discover or recognise what colleagues and customers experience with your company and quite frankly I never will. However, despite the sour taste the programme leaves in my mouth, I find it fascinating to observe. Having watched a UK episode that I recorded last week, I am compelled to write this post. I want to spend the next few minutes writing about the significance of the words ‘thank you’ – in general, but especially in the world of Customer Experience. I hope you can find the time to read them (thank you in advance if you can).
The Undercover Boss episode in question followed YMCA England’s Director of HR, Bims Alalade. Bims writes passionately on the YMCA website about the experience – she says it is an experience that will stay with her ‘forever’. You can read her thoughts here. In case you do not know, YMCA is a charitable organisation. It is actually the largest and oldest youth charity in the world. Their work is vitally important in providing predominantly young people with a safe place to stay; a fresh start; guidance and support; and facilities to get active. The YMCA relies on full-time staff and a large number of volunteers to keep all of their services running to ‘very high standards’.
Undercover Boss - Bims Alalade

Undercover Boss – Bims Alalade

Unusually for Undercover Boss, I was emotionally moved by this episode. Unlike Bims, I do not (and never have) worked for the YMCA. I did not know or appreciate the amazing things their staff and volunteers do. From cleaning youth hostels for sometimes rude and offensive residents, to providing nightly medical help in city centres, Bims was taken by the passion, pride and motivation of the people working for her organisation. Bims should not have been surprised – she should have already known. Whilst I am comforted by the fact that she now does, I find it astonishing that as the Director of HR, it took a TV programme to open her eyes to the efforts of her own people.
The predictability of the programme leads to the staff subjected to the ‘undercover antics’ being ‘summoned to head office’. Once there, they meet with the real persona – the boss. Cue shock and dismay, humble acknowledgement of the issues from the boss, followed by a ‘gesture of goodwill’ to the member of staff concerned. I am always left wondering what the other hundreds and thousands of employees of the organisations that have participated in the programme are left feeling. Why was I not chosen? Where is my free, all expenses paid holiday to Barbados?
This is where those two words come in – ‘thank you’. What moved the employees and volunteers who participated in this episode of Undercover Boss was the fact that someone was saying ‘thank you’. A senior leader was acknowledging and recognising the work that they do. People are actually quite simple – as children, we usually respond rather well when our parents give us positive feedback. We are no different as adults. The two simple words with a total of eight letters used honestly and often are a good way of keeping employees feeling motivated and valued.
How many bosses do you know that do not say thank you? How many bosses have you worked for that rarely thanked you for anything? I have often written about the importance of acknowledgement and recognition of people as a key component for a customer centric organisation. Saying thank you goes a very long way – and best of all, it costs you absolutely nothing. I believe that ‘thank you’ are the two most important Customer Experience words of all. If your organisational culture is one where it is the norm to appreciate your people and thank them regularly, it is very likely that your customers will feel appreciated as well. The well used mantra of ‘treat your people how you want them to treat your customers’ is very apt.
I hope Bims never graces our TV screens again in this context. I hope she regularly repeats her Undercover experience again – although in future leave the wig and TV cameras at home. Just taking the time to visit, work alongside, experience and appreciate your staff will mean a whole lot more to all of your people than a TV appearance and a free holiday. I hope that Bims continues to thank people in her organisation who are doing a remarkable job – they are remarkable because they do what they do for love, not money. They are remarkable people who deserve to be told ‘thank you’ by every boss that comes their way.
So think back to the last time that you said ‘thank you’ to your own people. When did you last write them a thank you note? When did you last send them a thank you email? When did you last say thank you to them in person. Can’t remember? Do it now – don’t delay. You can thank me later.