Yesterday was Canadian Thanksgiving and after eating all the turkey and stuffing I could handle, I came home and starting sifting through a pile of mail that had accumulated last week.

One envelope in particular from a company I do a lot of business with caught my attention.

Inside I found a letter that began, “Dear Valued Customer…”


Okay, maybe.

But apparently not “valuable” enough to be worthy of a simple mail merge.

Apparently not valuable enough to address the letter to me personally.

I spend a lot of money with this company. I know exactly how much – but do they? Does the marketing department? Do they even care? I guess not.

Maybe I’m being overly-harsh and cynical reading this deeply into three simple words, but it’s a mistake I see all too often. It’s a mistake that big and small companies can learn from.

It amazes me how many companies seem to regard the customer as an irritating time-consuming germ that needs to be dealt with as swiftly as possible so staff can return to more important matters.

There’s also no better way to stir up resentment in the mind of a loyal customer and they smell it a mile away.

There’s a section of a book that’s always struck a chord with me.

Shortly before his death in 1992, Sam Walton wrote Made in America: My Story, which described the early days and subsequent growth of the Wal-Mart empire.

In the book, Sam Walton gave this advice on how small businesses could compete with Wal-Mart. He said:

“It doesn’t make any sense to try to underprice Wal-Mart on something like toothpaste. That’s not what the customer is looking to a small store for anyway. Most independents are best off, I think, doing what I prided myself on doing for so many years as a storekeeper: getting out on the floor and meeting every one of the customers. Let them know how much you appreciate them, and ring that cash register yourself. That little personal touch is so important for an independent merchant because no matter how hard Wal-Mart tries to duplicate it—and we try awfully hard—we can’t really do it.”

Now here’s the good news and the bad news.

The bad news is that more than ever, companies like Wal-Mart are gaining the ability to add the personal touch to their communications and dealings with customers.

The good news is that you’ve still got an opportunity to do it on a much larger and potentially, more impactful scale.

So be thankful for pumpkin pie, turkey, and gravy. But also be thankful for the customers.

The simple answer, really, is to stop treating your customers like customers.