Episode 256 Featuring Alex Bond

Personalizing the Customer Experience with David Wachs

Personalizing the Customer Experience with David Wachs

David Wachs is the Founder and CEO of Handwrytten, a company that's bringing back the lost art of letter writing through scalable, robot-based solutions that write your notes in pen. Developed as a platform, Handwrytten lets you send notes from your CRM system, such as Salesforce, the web site, apps, or through custom integration. Used by major meal boxes, eCommerce giants, nonprofits, and professionals, Handwrytten is changing the way people and brands connect. Prior to starting Handwrytten, David founded Cellit, a leading mobile marketing agency which was sold to HelloWorld in 2012.

On this episode, David and I discuss why personalization is important to building customer experience, how brands can create better relationships with their clients, different opportunities that can set a brand apart from others in their industry, and much more.


What is Handwrytten

David Wachs: So Handwrytten is the largest provider of automated handwritten notes in the world. We use 175 robots. Each robot holds a real pen and we write out these notes, write out the envelopes and mail on your custom stationery next business day. 

I know a lot of your listeners are Shopify users. We actually have a plugin to the Shopify store where you can download our app, install it. And then set up automated rules to send handwritten notes.

So after your first purchase, after fifth purchase, after they spend a certain amount of money anniversary purchase, and pretty soon we'll have abandoned shopping carts as well. So you'll be able to follow up in a very meaningful personal way in a more automated fashion.

Alex Bond: No, that's amazing. When I found out that you guys had, you know, two patents on your robots on paper, when you look at like the website and the branding, it feels like the foundation of the business is this marketing concept of these handwritten notes. But with these robots, I mean, being fully automated, I'm interested from your perspective, is the foundation of the business more about the tech of those robots or is it the marketing concept?

David Wachs: It's really about helping people connect. So my background prior to starting Handwrytten, before the iPhone, I started a text messaging company and wrote it through the iPhone craze. And before we knew it, we were sending millions of texts a day for brands like Abercrombie and Fitch, Toys R Us, CM's, Club Office Max, Blue Man Group, and others. 

And what I realized during that process was I was part of the noise, right? Like people were overwhelmed with 130 plus emails a day and text messages and now slack and twitter and facebook and threads and everything else. People are just overwhelmed by this digital communication and none of it really matters. 

And you probably have seen these as well as all these automated emails that don't look like MailChimp, but they look like I'm sending you an email and they might have some personal bits. Oh, Alex, I really enjoyed seeing you on this podcast when it's all automated and it's just everybody's antenna is going up and they realize none of this is real, none of it matters.

But when you receive a handwritten note, even if you do know it's fake, it's showing a level differentiation and, you know, just go in the extra, extra mile that other people don't, but most people, when they look at our service, I'd say the vast majority, they have no idea that was written by a robot because it is in real pen. 

And we use AI to make it look really real, that it really helps brands connect with their customers, which leads to higher customer retention, more referrals, greater share of wallet, more purchases, sharing on Facebook, sharing on all the social media while our product is the handwritten note, what we're really selling is connection retention and referral. 


Creating Unique Handwriting Styles: Ensuring Variety and Distinctiveness for Each Client

Alex Bond: And I'm interested how you're able to create variety in the style of handwriting that you give, you know, for example, let's say I showed interest in your Abercrombie and Fitch and office max, they were both clients of yours, how do you ensure that I don't get two cards that have the exact same style of handwriting? And then that, that illusion kind of dissipates. So how do you make them look different? 

David Wachs: Oh, yeah. So on the handwriting front, well, first of all, you touched upon something really valuable. You said, buy my thing turns into advertising. I go on podcasts like yours and I say, what you should be doing is just thanking people full stop. You shouldn't be asking for anything. You shouldn't be asking for referral. You shouldn't have them skin a QR, nothing. 

Just thank them because so many brands these days. Need to learn the value of appreciation and understand the the you know a it's just the right thing to do and there's been studies that show that appreciation leads to happiness and I fully believe that but the long term lifetime value does reap rewards and Yeah, you could call it ROI.

I call it ROR, return on relationship and how that's going to improve your brand over time. It's the long sell, not the, not the immediate, but getting back to your question about the authenticity, the way we make it look authentic on our website, we have almost 40 handwriting styles. They range from very formal to very messy. Lock cursive all, you know, all caps, everything in between. 

If you are so inclined, we can also create your own handwriting, which is an expensive production because it takes about a week of my designers times to do time to do it. And then we can replicate your own handwriting. We've done this for famous celebrities, sports stars, social media companies, et cetera.

On top of that, every note goes through our AI system where we vary the characters. So two ways look different. If there's two letter A's on the page, you know, you'll have multiple variations of that ligature combinations, which I know you're in graphics and design, I'm sure this gets your gets you excited.

So two O's together looked different than two O's apart. How do you cross your two T's with one crossbar or two? How does an L look at the beginning of the word versus the end of the word? We do all that variation too. And then in addition to character and ligature variation, we vary the left margin.

So it doesn't look like you wrote down a perfectly straight line on the page because people don't do that. So we jitter in and out line by line to make sure that looks right. It's not a lot of jitter. It's not like an inch in and an inch out. It's like, you know, millimeter in, millimeter out. Because we want it to look authentic.

And then we vary the line margin, kind of the same, or the line spacing. You're not writing straight across every line perfectly distant from the next line below it. It kind of slants a little bit. Well, we do slant a little and we bend, that's the third part which I'll get to, but the second is just the line spacing so that every line is a little different spaced from the line above or below.

And then we do there, we warp the text, we bend the text just a little bit. So it's not straight across the page too. So those are kind of the AI, especially the last one. That's really our AI. The other ones are just good programming, but we do use AI to, to make that happen too.

Alex Bond: It's a really impressive attention to detail the stuff that you're describing, because I think that is that the difference maker between what you're doing and some companies who try to do the same thing. And it's like someone just printed cursive on a piece of paper and what you're doing with, you know, the kerning, the spacing, the inventations, all that sort of stuff. I can feel the difference, you know, when I'm holding it. 

David Wachs: And the ink smudges, you know, there are competitors on the marketplace, the Shopify market place that you laser printed text. There's there's one called scribe list, for instance, but it's laser printed and people know that. 

Yeah, I mean, the work we do printing is the very first step. I mean, the very first thing we do is we print a nice card and that's like before we even think about it, we get that card printed for you and then we feed it in the robot. And the robot writes it and then we write the envelope. We put the two together, put a real stamp on it, mail it. 

So it is a whole manufactured process, getting these notes out. And you're right. It is. It is. There's a ton of attention to detail. You mentioned the two patents, the handwriting part. We don't even patent because if we had, if we were to patent it, We'd have to write in a patent document, how we do it.

And there's so much proprietary information in there that we don't even, we don't even want to patent it because that would give away the, you know, kind of how we, how we have the handwriting happens. So that's the secret sauce. And then the robots are patented and the team is the attention to detail to make it happen.

The Significance of Personalization: Enhancing Customer Experience through Customized Interactions

Alex Bond:  And I think you touched on something really important a little bit ago about. That's showing appreciation at the beginning of a relationship instead of at the end. Most times when you're working with a company, they don't say thank you until after you bought something already.

And then it feels like, okay, I'm only of use to this brand if I buy something to them. And what I'm hearing you say is that isn't necessarily the case. So my question essentially is why is the personalization piece? So important in building that customer experience. 

David Wachs: Well, I think it's personal from both perspectives. Number one, we have to personalize to you and say, Hey, Alex, thanks so much for signing up, or thanks for placing your first purchase. I think the other thing is you want to come across as personal. You want the customer to get to know you. 

The more the customer gets to know you, the more they are likely to connect and buy from you. People like buying from brands they trust. So, for instance, Handwritten now, when you sign up for a large package, large is like a thousand bucks, you know, one time fee. 

We now send you a care package with a handwritten note from me and some swag in it and some other stuff. But in that handwritten note, it written in that handwritten note, it tells, I mean, handwritten notes are short, so I got to keep it concise, but I give my story. I say that, you know, before starting Handwrytten, I sent millions of text messages a day. I realized I was part of the problem. 

That's why I started Handwrytten. We're so happy that you're coming along on this journey with us because then. You're buying from a brand where you feel an emotional connection, as well as just me thanking you, you know, it really is about that culture of gratitude. 

Because, you know, there's a million companies like Handwrytten, there's a million companies that do anything that sell pants or sell electronics online or furniture, whatever you sell on Shopify, I hate to break it to you, but you're not a snowflake, right? Like there's other companies out there that do it. And the fact that a client or a customer took the time to research all their options and chose you, you need to thank them for that. 

Alex Bond: And so, taking that another degree, right? How does that actually turn into a return for a brand? 

David Wachs: Oh, yeah. So you know, I think it's a little hard to measure it directly, but what I'll tell you is we have a snack box company, so they are a subscription business. They send you snacks every month at your office when they screwed up on snacks, they'd follow up by sending you a handwritten note apology, as well as an extra box of snacks. 

What they found now granted the extra box of snacks helped, I'm not going to discount that, but what they found was those clients that had bad experiences that were screwed up with on. And that received the wind back the handwritten note and extra swag. 

They actually have a higher lifetime value than those clients that never had a bad experience in the first place. Meaning they stayed with the brand longer, they bought more snacks, et cetera. So what did the brand do? They started screwing up with everybody, sending everybody the wind back. And raising all tides, right? So that's one example. 

Another example, I'll give you two more. During COVID. Now, again, I'm always willing to give credit where credit's due. COVID caused a great change in people's mentalities, but during COVID, we're working with a furniture company that would ship flat male furniture to put together and people would literally call into customer service, crying, thanking customer service for sending them a handwritten note because.

During COVID, everybody feels alone and nobody took the time to, to try to reach out personally. So that was just tremendously impactful. And then a third example is a non detail, but a piano tuner that we work with in Pennsylvania. They're only in your house once a year to tune your piano, and then you don't need it to be tuned for 365 more days.

Well, after tuning your piano, they sent you a handwritten note. A year later, when they go back to your home to tune your piano again, that note is often standing up on the piano. So not only is that note read, it is on display on your most prized possession in the fancy room of the house, as I call it.

And there's no other form of advertising, none, that would get that real estate, right? Like, you couldn't send them an email and they're not going to print it out and scotch tape it to the, you know, you couldn't send them a text message. My old business, you know, nothing is going to have that staying power and feel like a gift, like a handwritten note.

So, you know, all I can say is try sending real handwritten notes, you know, writing them out. And if that doesn't work, use a company like handwritten to, to make sure, you know, you know, if you can't keep up with the actual handwritten notes, use a company like handwritten to do it for you. 

The Timeless Appeal of Handwritten Notes: Examining the Nostalgia and Impact in the Digital Age and Beyond

Alex Bond: And I think you touched it on something very valuable, David. And that is, I think that romanticism of it a little bit is we've gotten to this point in the digital age where everything is so digital that there's something not even really novel or trivial as much as nostalgic and inspiring about holding that handwritten note.

Do you think that's only that feeling and the power that that has now is only because it's happening now? I mean, would a company like this even be able to be as successful 15 years ago when we weren't so far into the digital age? 

David Wachs: I think it's certainly helping that we are now in such a world where there is, you know, we're neglecting four of our five senses now, you know the only sense we're using a site, but the idea to tactile, you know, to feel that handwritten note .

And this is going to sound cheesy, but the unboxing experience, you know, you go to your mailbox and there's a note there from brand X and it takes a second to open up and pull that note out. Well, you've created a positive moment or two in the mind of the customer. That's really valuable. 

So I do think it's more valuable now than 15 years ago. I mean, nowadays, the least utilized mailbox is the one at the end of your driveway. You know, everybody's text and email. So by standing out and using and not junk mail, you know, we're not talking about that glossy crap that you get in the mail, but something that looks genuine, you know, you only get one to three of those a month now.

The average consumer, I think it's one a month, so doing something, you know, would you rather be in the pile of a trillion emails, a thousand junk mail or one, right? So that's kind of, that's where we're really playing and you're absolutely right. It's more valuable now than ever before. 

Alex Bond: And we talked about that appreciation piece. I'm curious more maybe on a macro level how brands can create better relationships with the client. 

David Wachs: Yeah. So if you visit our website handwrytten.com and it's Handwrytten. And you go to the resources tab at the top, there's actually a consumer outreach survey. We reached out to 2,000 consumers, not handwritten customers, just 2,000 consumers. We did a blind survey and we asked a lot of questions about how they like to be communicated with. 

The number one most personal way is not handwritten notes. It is sending a, is doing a phone call. But the number one most potentially annoying communication method is also receiving a phone call. So, we found that handwritten notes kind of walked that line of highly personal, low annoying factor which was nice. 

And then it also, the document, you know, I recommend everybody download it. It also talks about when you feel appreciated by a brand, what does that mean? Well, it means you buy more, you refer more, you buy more frequently and just buy more, you know, you spend more money. So those are all benefits outside of that.

You know, we work with a lot of car dealerships and what we find with them, because they already do a lot of direct mail print. When they replace some of their direct mail with handwritten notes. They see to drive in store visits to look at the new car, whatever they see a 27 times greater response rate, you know, showing up in the dealership than from a print piece 27 and handwritten notes are really much more expensive than a junk mail piece.

But even when you adjust for the additional cost, it's still a seven times greater ROI. The impact of driving consumers in store thanking them, staying top of mind at their birthday, you know, all these other ways it's I don't know if I'm answering your question in the slightest, but these are all ways when you can really drive that customer relationship.

Alex Bond: No, absolutely. I definitely think that answers it. And one of the other things I find interesting is that you could also do this is kind of a two parter inserts of maybe like a business card inside something that is somewhat handwritten as well. 

But on top of that, it's not just like a card in the mail, but it's also in an envelope that's handwritten as well. And I think that's something that that needs to be stated for the audience. So it's not like it's not printed. 

No, it's not a postcard or it's not like a printed envelope that then you have to open up and then it's handwritten. So that kind of like loses the illusion. But that's just pays into that attention to detail a little bit more.

David Wachs: Sorry, if anything, the handwritten envelope is actually more important than the handwritten note itself because handwritten envelopes have a 300 percent greater open rate than printed envelopes. If you had a cut budget, I'd say keep the handwritten envelope, cut the handwritten card and let's insert a printed piece in there.

Obviously we prefer to do both. And then as far as postcards, there are other companies on Shopify that do postcards, but what I'd say is that the right brand impression you want to do those postcards by the time they get to the mailbox, they're often beat up and there is no unwrapping experience, unboxing experience.

It's a lower end service and people ask us all the time if we want to do postcards and we might eventually, but right now it's just not aligned with our brand where we want people to feel this genuine connection and throwing a postcard in the mail just doesn't do it for us. 

Striking the Balance: Guiding Brands to Embrace the Power of Handwritten Notes without Losing Authenticity

Alex Bond: My question is, do brands who are trying to work with you, for example, they hear this podcast, they contact you, are they total committal? You know, because I feel like as a brand, I'd want to have it in a flashy graphic design, kind of like back, almost kind of like a postcard where it's nice and stylized and then you flip it over and then there's this handwritten note. 

But the graphic or something highly stylized like that isn't the hook, it's the fact that it was handwritten, correct? I mean, do you have to kind of walk brands, you know, hold their hand a little bit through this process so they don't get so marketing minded? 

David Wachs: So you bring up a good point. So the graphic design on the card could be the clients entirely. So we have a way where the client can provide a five by seven image or whatever, 5.3 by 7.3, because the 0.15 and believe. But anyway, so they provide that image and then we write on the other side of it. We can do that. 

However, I would say it really depends on what you're trying to do. Like, if you're following up after a first purchase, that might be the right thing to do. It might make sense to put it on a branded card to really reinforce the client brand.

However, at birthday, when it's your birthday and you're sending them a birthday card to just wish them a happy birthday, maybe you don't want to use something branded. You know, maybe you just want to use a standard old birthday card off handwrytten.com or maybe have your designer design a birthday card, but not put any brand branding on there because.

You want it to seem more genuine and it's a different message, you know, even if it's just throwing the company logo on there, then people might, and this is where they'd be testing, but clients might see or customers might see that really as an advertising opportunity when what you're trying to do is just make that connection with the customer and you can make that connection through the writing, not through the printed branding.

So, you know, for instance, we work with a lot of nonprofits, and I've actually written a framework saying after donations, thank them with a branded card. But when it's birthday and Christmas, use non branded stationery. 

And then, you know, we write out these rules. It doesn't cost any different, you know, creating your own card on handwritten is no different than using one of our cards, but it just sets a different tone. And I think you need to be conscious of that as well. 

Handwrytten's Behind-the-Curtain Marketing Approach

Alex Bond: You also mentioned on your website that it's not like handwritten shows up anywhere on these cards, like, you know, created by handwritten in partnership with OfficeMax or something like that. I mean, again, that kind of shatters the illusion. 

David Wachs: That's one of the problems with my company is that we put no client, A, we never advertise on the client's material because that would just be nobody would want to. And then B, we don't put any of our client names on our website either because no client wants their secret exposed, right?

So it's the hidden curse of handwritten. Now, on g2.com, that big review site, you can find 700 plus reviews about Handwrytten where people do say they use us. But on our website, we never mention it. 

Alex Bond: So that hasn't been like a problem at all in terms of marketing and getting people in the door and wanting to use your services is that I don't know, behind man behind the curtain aspect.

David Wachs: I mean, not for our clients and customers, it's a benefit to them. But to Handwrytten itself to our company, it's a huge problem because I can't say, hey, they're not a client, but I'll pretend they are whatever. Audi nation, you know, globally as a client of ours, you should use us too. We can't do that. We can't say X is a client. So you should use us. We just have no, we have no ability to do that. So it's an interesting part of the handwritten business.

Alex Bond: That is interesting. And how do you like solve that problem? I mean, do you have to just expect people to understand your business plan and say sounds like a good idea because you don't really have a resume aside from your time, your data and your research that you can provide.

David Wachs: We do have a few select clients that allow us to mention them primarily through like I would never do it on a podcast. I would say a snack box company that delivers to offices on the podcast, but in real life. I can mention a few of our clients given their permission. So, you know, and that would just be on the phone.

It wouldn't be in writing or on a teams or zoom call, not in writing. So we're very careful of that. But I think our prospect of clients come to us because a, we've been in the space for nine years, we're the oldest provider out there on G two, we've got the most reviews and the best reviews. 

So not only are we the biggest, but we're the best according to them. And the content we put out on our website as well, as people just request sample kits and they see how our product compares to others and it's like hands down comparison, of course, you go with handwritten. 

Insights on Most Effective Digital Communication Channels for Maximum Customer Engagement

Alex Bond: And your experience working, what was the name of the company you founded with the text messaging?

David Wachs: Cell It. C E L L I T. 

Alex Bond: And you sold that company, correct? I mean, it wasn't like that idea just stopped. That's just kind of personally. You were ready to move on from that. So you sold that company, correct? 

David Wachs: Yeah, I sold that company. And then worked for the new owners for two years. Which is common when you sell a company as soon as my two years were up the next day. I started Handwrytten. Well, it's amazing, but I should have given myself a break and gone out on the beach, but I didn't do that. 

Alex Bond: Yeah, no, no real layover time, but I'm curious about cell it because you have such a history in kind of both spaces. I'm curious from your perspective what types of digital communication do people react to the most? 

I mean is it text you talked about how that can be valuable but for someone myself personally. I don't want text messages from companies at all. I'd much prefer an email. So what are your thoughts on that? I know that it's kind of hard to give a ad hoc at large answer, but from your experience, what types do people react to the most? 

David Wachs: Sure. So what I can tell you is my experience is now nine years old in that space. So if you rewind the clock nine years. As annoying as you and I might think of text messages, everything we did was opt in, so people would have to request it. 

People would request these by the millions, and the results were crazy good. For example, I was meeting with a client of mine in Virginia. For Rent Media, they do those apartment magazines that you would get in the grocery store.

And I went across the street to a tropical smoothie cafe. And they used handwritten and I walked in there and I just said, or sorry, they use sell it. And I walked in there and I said, Hey, and there was just a store clerk there. And I said, Hey are you part of the tropical smoothie cafe text program?

And she said, yeah. I said how do you like it? She's like, Oh, I hate it. I said, why do you hate it? She goes, because every time the manager sends out a text message, there's a line around the block. And I was blown. And these are her words. And I'm just blown away by the impact a text program. Can have or could have.

Now, these days, I think texting is still very important because not everybody's willing to install your app. So now a lot of people do push notifications. But how many apps are you really gonna fill up your phone with? 

So, and in order to do push notifications, you have to have the app on the phone. So some people want to commit to a brand, but not commit in a way like, why would I want a smoothie app on my phone? Right. 

But if I really like smoothies, maybe I'll just join their text messaging program. What I think you need to do as a brand and this is still today, I think you need to develop a reference center where you allow people to opt in, opt out of various forms of communication. You know, maybe your customers want to receive texts once a week or once a month.

Maybe they want to receive emails twice a month or emails about offers, but not about new features. Handwritten notes or printed pieces. You know, if you have the resources to develop a strong preference center, I think that's always very valuable. Especially if you're a very large brand like Abercrombie and Fitch, we were working with them on that.

But it was just crazy. The, you know, the uptick in sales or clients would get from text messages, but that uptick was like a, you know, it was a spike, right? Like the text message would go out, they would get this huge uptick and then two hours later it would be gone, right? Because people forget these notes very, very quick or these messages very quickly.

Handwritten notes are very different. You know, that handwritten note, first of all, it's going to take a week to get to you, thanks to the snail mail of the US post Office, and then it could sit in your mailbox for a day or two, and then it gets out of your mailbox, and it sits on your kitchen counter, and then somebody opens it, and then they take advantage of the offer.

So, I would say text messages are short, quick and urgent and important, I guess, handwritten notes are not urgent, but important. And there's that difference of, you know, it's still important, even if it is just a thank you, but the urgency isn't there. And if it is urgent, then you got to plan ahead to give people ample room to work on it.

For example, like we work with a clothing brand that they make custom suits for you. So, you know, you get. I think you use your phone to take your measurements and you send them to them and then they send your measurements to China and you get a beautiful suit for Christmas. They'll send you an offer code, but they send it out weeks in advance.

So you have it and you could use it for Christmas, you know, or car dealerships. If they're running a big promotion, they send those offers to come into the dealership weeks in advance so that they know you've had a chance to get your mail, open it, read it, et cetera. 

Alex Bond
Alex Bond

Meet Alex Bond—a seasoned multimedia producer with experience in television, music, podcasts, music videos, and advertising. Alex is a creative problem solver with a track record of overseeing high-quality media productions. He's a co-founder of the music production company Too Indecent, and he also hosted the podcast "Get in the Herd," which was voted "Best Local Podcast of 2020" by the Richmond Times-Dispatch in Virginia, USA.

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