Professional Development

Does a Handwritten Thank You Note Make a Difference in Business?

By John P. Palen

Unfortunately, yes. Though leadership experts emphasize it, few companies demonstrate a consistent personal approach to service. The handwritten note still has the power to make your company stand out.

In 2004, a bad customer service experience inspired Bill Svoboda to pursue the personal touch with something as simple as t-shirts. While studying business administration at North Central University, he and his roommate decided to start a custom, screen-printed t-shirt and apparel business — emphasizing quality and customer service. Running the company part-time until he graduated, Svoboda ended up buying out his partner and running Coed Monkey full-time.

Sales took off until 2008, when the economy tanked and Svoboda was left with a lot of credit card debt and very little business: “It was actually a blessing for me. I spent a lot of time in coffee shops and met a lot of people starting e-commerce businesses. I learned e-commerce and took my business online.”


Coed Monkey; CloseSimple 
Location: Minneapolis
Revenue:  $1 million Coed Monkey; N/A
Inception:  2004 Coed Monkey; 2014 CloseSimple 
Employees: 5 Coed Monkey; 5 CloseSimple
Leadership:  Bill Svoboda    
Description: Soft, custom-printed t-shirts and apparel; software as a service to streamline closing of real estate transactions

By 2012, Coed Monkey attracted an order from Google (yes, the company), and sales took off again. “We called our products by the terms people would search for online. People could easily find what they wanted.”

Svoboda learned early that every retailer has to be buyer-centric. With a small staff of five including himself, and outsourced as well as in-house accounting, Coed Monkey has developed a turnkey e-commerce model with the capacity to make every experience more personal — even when things go wrong. A few years ago, Svoboda responded personally to the complaint of a large customer by crediting the entire order. “The customer was grateful and shocked that we fixed it,” he says.

His team also strives to keep the online experience personal. On its website, informational videos and video product demos encourage buyers to shop before they buy. A recent video shared news of changes to American Apparel, one of Coed Monkey’s original and popular t-shirt brands. In the video, Svoboda gives customers advice on how to ensure stock of their favorite colors or quantities.

With the business operating well under his team, Svoboda decided to pursue a second venture. Two co-founders brought him the idea to launch a software-as-a-service business to help real estate title companies streamline the real estate closing process for all parties in the transaction. He decided to join them to launch, which now facilitates more than 3,000 home closings each month. “The two businesses are unrelated, but the focus is still on customer care,” Svoboda says. “The product keeps everybody aware of each stage of the closing process.”

With a core vision of what he calls “6-star service,” Svoboda aims to anticipate customers’ needs before they realize they need it. “It’s like a spa treatment. You deserve it and didn’t know how much you needed it. Compare that to reactionary services. When you need an oil change, it’s usually last-minute and you need to schedule it yourself.”

It seems the more we digitize, the more we seek human connection. Young entrepreneurs like Bill Svoboda are proving that successful ventures can balance technical efficiency with a genuine concern for people.



John P. Palen is CEO of Allied Executives and works with CEOs, business owners and executive leaders on leadership and business performance through peer groups, coaching and educational workshops.