The forgotten art of the follow-up

A simple annual greeting card can do wonders for a business – all part of the art of the follow-up, which is neglected at untold cost.

The forgotten art of the follow-up

Louis Coutts

Over Christmas I received Christmas greetings from Hervé Gabard. So what, you might ask; everyone gets Christmas greetings. This Hervé Gabard however lives in Burgundy in France. More particularly, he runs a hotel called the Hotel Belle Epoque in Beaune, which is the capital of Burgundy. 

It so happens that a few years ago I ran a conference in Beaune for my clients, and some of them stayed at the Belle Epoque as a result of which I got to know Monsieur Gabard. He ran a great boutique three star hotel, was incredibly friendly and helpful, and went to no end of trouble to make the guests comfortable and to feel at home.

Now, every Christmas, he sends me greetings from the Belle Epoque, and as a result I have recommended his establishment to many of my friends who are visiting Burgundy.

If Gabard simply regarded me as a one-off customer and forgot me the moment I left Burgundy, I am sure I would have forgotten him and the name of the hotel that he runs. However each year he simply goes to the trouble of putting a greeting letter in an envelope and then posts it to me. It is simply not possible to forget the Hotel Belle Epoque.

I wonder how many other past guests around the world receive Christmas messages from Hervé Gabard and how many of them tell their friends about this wonderful bright enthusiastic French man who goes out of his way to make you feel welcome?

So what is happening here? I am telling you about a hotel in France. Perhaps not any of you will ever avail yourself of the knowledge of the existence of the Hotel Belle Epoque in Beaune, but I can bet that Hervé Gabard receives a stream of customers year after year simply by reminding past guests of his existence.

Just by way of detour, I was having dinner one night with the husband of the person who was then my secretary. We were sharing a meal with some lawyers. Anyway, Maurice (my secretary’s husband) said to the lawyers that they ought to wake up to themselves.

When he and his wife purchased their first house they were referred by an agent to a lawyer who handled the transaction. However, when they decided to buy another property, they could not for the life of them remember the name of the lawyer they had previously used and so they hunted around and found another lawyer. If the first lawyer had been like Gabard, he or she may well have retained a customer who gradually acquired quite a few assets. As it is, the client was lost for all time.

This is a boring way of saying that if you want to grow your business, you can’t take customers for granted and you have to go to a lot of trouble to let them know that you are still in existence – otherwise, even though you might have a good product or do a great job, you can be forgotten quickly.

I am staggered at how many businesses do nothing to stay in touch with their customers. No newsletters, no Christmas cards, no database to remind them when they need to review their product or come in for a check up.

There are thousands of businesses around the country that are daily losing customers to their competitors without knowing what is happening. They don’t realise that people who were once customers have forgotten them and looked up the Yellow pages, talked to a friend or have seen an advertisement by a competitor in the newspaper or on the web and have given them their business.

What is so stupid is that the new business will make the same mistake as the old and treat the customer as a one-off transaction and not as a person with whom they want to build a relationship.

The gurus talk about relationship marketing as though it is some flash new beaut thing out of academia. It is as old as the hills and is more ignored than practised.

So, did you send a Christmas card to all the people who walked through your door over the past year? There is a tendency to believe that the cost of going to this type of trouble to maintain a relationship with people you might never see again is not worth the investment. If Hervé Gabard thought that, I am sure he would have missed out on hundreds of customers. In fact, when I was last in Burgundy, he was extending his hotel.

So, if you are going to Burgundy and want to stop at a relatively inexpensive hotel where you will be looked after and be comfortable, you can’t beat Monsieur Gabard’s establishment in Beaune.


To read Louis Coutts’s newsletter, which goes out once a quarter, go to the Coutts and Connor web site and click on the tab for articles and newsletters. To read more Louis Coutts blogs, click here .



Andrew writes: Please, please, please do not encourage sending paper that gets a quick glance and then goes in the bin. Greeting cards should be outlawed. Use all the electronic means you want. I agree with you entirely that staying in touch if it is meaningful is great, but in today’s age and scarctiy of trees we need to do it differently. Our company donates to charity the equivalent amount of buying and posting cards and then tells the people we would have sent them to by email.

As an aside, sending obsequious greetings to anyone who may be of use is really rather crass. Send them to those you genuinely care about. Getting greetings from someone who you know doesn’t really care is worse than not getting them.

Emma writes: Getting greetings from someone who you know doesn’t really care is not worse than not getting them at all. How can you be sure someone doesn’t really care? Imagine if you haven’t any friends and have very low self esteem, and you get a personal letter from some company or whatever – it’s good to know that you matter enough for some person to bother to send you a letter.



Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
SmartCompany Plus

Sign in

To connect a sign in method the email must match the one on your SmartCompany Plus account.
Or use your email
Forgot your password?

Want some assistance?

Contact us on: or call the hotline: +61 (03) 8623 9900.