In an insightful book written by Robert Caildini called Influence, he cites several studies that provide evidence that people tend to have a mindless reciprocity reflex. For example in one study Christmas cards were sent at random to a bunch of people who the researched did not know and the great majority of recipients sent him a card back.
It is common practice for professionals to send their clients a Christmas card. This is a nice gesture and one that is wholeheartedly endorsed by Hallmark. However, to the extent that everyone does it I believe it loses its intended meaning, that being to let people know you are thinking of them. This is made worse when you get two (or more) cards from the same firm each signed by the same people and you know they have been at their desk late into the night busily signing a pile of 500 cards and wishing they could be at home.
There is a wonderful traditional universal holiday in the US called Thanksgiving (the last Thursday in November). It is my favorite holiday of the year simply because it really is a time when people get together and give thanks (and not gifts) for all the good things they have in their life–especially family but also circumstance. In my view this should be the time of the year we send a card, or some other form of thanks to the people – clients, team members, firm partners and strategic alliance partners – who we want to thank for the contribution they have made to our life.
If you’re not in the US then create your own Thanksgiving Day – it might be the day your firm was founded, or your country’s National Day, or your Birthday but whatever day you choose, make it a day you can relate to with a sense of gratitude. The other thing you could do of course, is to spontaneously send a gratitude card or note your valued clients, partners, team members etc at random. For example, set aside an hour a month and send out 10 notes – I suspect it’ll be the best relationship (read marketing) exercise you do during the entire month.
If Caildini and the other researches in this space are correct (and from my own experience they are) you will probably see the mindless reciprocity reflex characteristic of people kick in. This will take the form of closer relationships and loyalty with clients, more referrals, greater team loyalty and motivation and one more extremely important thing …. even if none of these outcomes happen in the short term you will feel happier simply because you sent a nice positive message to someone you know. See the recent Harvard Business Review (Jan-Feb 2012) article called Positive Intelligence.