Last week while selecting the company’s greeting card for 2012, I was reminded of something that happened to me many years ago. This is a story about cost savings gone mad!

Back in the 1980’s when most companies in the UK sent Christmas cards to their entire address list, my accountant once sent me a Christmas card that remains in my mind to this day. 

It was printed on very cheap quality paper with very poor quality printing and in an envelope so thin, you could see through it like a cotton shirt with a t-shirt underneath! It must have been the cheapest of the cheap Christmas cards I have ever seen.

OK so it was from my accountant, maybe that is to be expected. But when I opened it a scrappy piece of roughly folded paper fell out onto my desk.  Carefully unfolding it I found it was his annual invoice with an additional one line statement telling me how much tax I still needed to pay before the end of the year!  If there had been even a slight feeling of ‘oh, that’s nice of him to remember me and to wish me and my family well in this Christmas time’, then it did not last long. In fact I became so angry and cheated that I immediately called on the phone:

“What’s this?”  I said, “Is this some kind of a joke?” but he said “I always send out my final year invoices in my Christmas cards, it saves on postage.” I said “But you are mixing up seasonal wishes of peace on earth and ‘good will to all men’ with taxes and a commercial transaction!” “But it saves me and you money.” he said. “If insincerity is the cost of saving money then you can find another customer, I am out of here!”

I was so mad that I told all my friends about how I had just discovered the meanest person on the planet.  Luckily one of them told me about an accountant he knew that seemed honest and decent and fair.  I contacted him and nearly thirty years later I am still using his services.  Accountants (good ones) understand their customers. They are after all handling some of their most private matters and giving personal advice and guidance. 

Building relationships in business, based upon sincerity, is a must for me and there are moments when we need to be absolutely sure we are not forgetting who our customers and suppliers are; their emotional sensitivities as well as their professional needs.

In this day of globalization, we need to also be sensitive to people’s religious beliefs and cultural values and we need to achieve this without watering down our key message. “Happy Holidays” is not an acceptable alternative to “Happy Christmas” for me. With modern IT systems it is very easy to handle diversity in a respectful way.  The bottom line is: if you feel  that a Christmas card might have the total opposite effect to what it is intended, then don’t send it!  Wait until the appropriate New Year (China or Europe &US etc.) and send that customer or supplier a ‘Happy New Year’ card instead!

Have a good week,

Harley