Years ago, think back to the 90s, I read an article that talked about writing onion and orchid letters. Unfortunately I can’t remember the source, but the idea has always stuck with me and I’ve tried my best to always try to follow this advice. As you’re reading about this, if you know the source or who came up with the idea I’d love to know and give them credit because I think it’s a fantastic idea. Maybe it’s something you’re already doing!
Before I get too far into this post I suppose I should explain to you what onion and orchid letters are, then I can go into why it is important to write both of them.
What are Onion Letters?
Simply put, they are complaint letters to organizations or service providers. But I don’t like calling them complaint letters because really I don’t like to complain. But I do want to notify a place of business if I’m unhappy with a service they provided, need to know about an issue with their service, or need an update on the behavior of their staff if it happens to be unprofessional. Luckily I rarely have to write these letters, but every now and then it is needed. They can’t correct a problem if they don’t know about it.
What are Orchid Letters?
Orchid letters are just the opposite of onion letters. They are letters of compliment, and sadly most businesses don’t get them near as often as they should. From experience I can speak to the motivation a positive note can give someone working in a service field. I’ve received complaints about my work before, sometimes founded sometimes unfounded or actually someone else was at fault and I got the complaint. I own those. I made mistakes and did my best to make them right. However, receiving a compliment from a customer pushed me even harder to go above and beyond. It put a smile on my face and helped me make the rest of my customers for the day (or longer) have an even better experience because I was just that much more motivated.
Why is writing both onion and orchid letters important?
First of all, even though I mention writing letters, this also pertains to emails, social media shout outs, even phone calls to customer service. Sending off an onion or orchid letter doesn’t have to be a physical letter you sit down and write, though for me there is something calming about putting pen to paper.
The reason writing both onion and orchid letters is important is balance. If you’re only focusing on the negative there’s a good chance it’s just going to bring you down. If businesses are only hearing the negative for customers it makes it harder for them to adjust services for the better because they may not realize what they are doing right.
My story with balancing onions and orchids
I remember one time years ago I had just gotten off of the phone after a horrible interaction with a credit card company that was messing with my interest rates and I wasn’t happy about it. The service agent wasn’t the kindest and I could tell just wanted me off the phone, so I wasn’t really being listened to because the answers weren’t even really addressing my questions.
When I hung up I was frustrated and flustered. After working years in customer service with many of them as a phone representative I knew this wasn’t right. Before I called back to speak with a supervisor I gave another credit card company a call.
It was a company I had been a customer of for years and they had always treated me well. When the representative answered I immediately told him thank you. He was a bit confused and asked me for my customer information. I told him he didn’t need it. I was only calling to thank him and the company for always treating me so well. He again tried to see if there was anything I could help him with, to which I just told him no. It’s a simple thank you. I could tell in his voice he was smiling. Then he told me I was his first call of the day after a rough morning. It made his day to hear my call of thanks.
After this call I was the called back the first credit card company and spoke to a supervisor. Because I had balanced my emotions I had an easier time pinpointing my issues with the original call. I was also able to give some compliments about both employees and the company. I could tell it was well received and the supervisor was also able to better answer my original questions and make things right.
Now it’s your turn
Balancing the negative and positive in life is important. There will always be challenges and conflict in life. Being able to find a positive somewhere to help balance those out can take you a long way.
Next time you write an onion letter, take a moment to write an orchid letter too. You’ll make someone’s day and you might just brighten your own day in the process.
Have you ever written a letter of compliment to a service provider? What was your experience? Tell us in the comments.