What's in a name? Customer confidence

June 24, 2008 

My husband and I have a deal. If we are out together and run in to someone one of us knows, failure to introduce the person to our spouse simply means we cannot remember that person's name. In these instances, I or my husband will quickly introduce ourselves to the individual, as if we didn't give our spouse time to make the introduction. Smooth, huh?

It's not so much to save one another from embarrassment, though that is a definite upshot of the maneuver. It's also so the person whose name has escaped us is not made to feel, well, nameless.

In 1936, American author and lecturer Dale Carnegie wrote the book, “How to Win Friends and Influence People.” It was a massive bestseller that remains popular today. One of the most memorable and valuable pieces of wisdom Carnegie put forth in the book was that a person's name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language. It's as true today as it was 72 years ago.

Using the customer's name is perhaps the most low cost and efficient way to establish a connection with customers and prospects. And the sooner a connection can be made with a customer, the sooner that person feels like a person and not just another number to your business.

When you use the customer's name, the customer does not think, “Oh, she just called me by my name.” What the customer thinks is that they are important enough to be remembered. In fact, research by Dr. Ellen Weber, president and CEO of MITA International Brain Based Renewal Center, found that hearing your name spoken causes a "spike" in parts of the brain that have to do with our sense of self.

It's an ego builder that makes the customer feel good about him or herself. And while people may not remember what you said or did, they will always remember the way you made them feel. That's why women remember everything, by the way. Unlike men, we attach emotion to events, thus burning the memory in our minds. Men do it, too, but typically only regarding remarkable moments in sports.

The principle of the Law of Reciprocity is that others will reciprocate in kind based upon the way you treat them. If you treat others as unique individuals by addressing them by name, they will see you as a real person, too. Many times, this can diffuse an otherwise tense situation where anonymity allows tempers to flair.

Nowhere is using the customer's name more important than in non-face-to-face settings. When the customer is on the other end of the phone or an e-mail, it's essential to do all you can to bridge the gap as quickly as possible. Along with listening, acknowledging their viewpoint, and asking questions that prove you were listening, using their name is key to building confidence and trust that you care.

Just this morning my husband and I met two gentlemen at breakfast in a hotel lobby. We are all attending the same event that will draw about 5,000 motorcycle enthusiasts. We'll also likely see these gentlemen again over the next few days, so five minutes later I asked my husband what their names were. He didn't have a clue, and I remembered only one of the two names. How pitiful — he's in sales and I teach this stuff. We both know better than that.

We all know better than that, but still most people have a hard time remembering names. I didn't do what I should have done to help me remember their names. First, I should have used their names immediately when we all shook hands. “Hi, Paul. It's nice to meet you.” Then we should have used their names in a conversational manner. “So Paul, where are you from and how long will you be staying?” “John, what kind of bike did you ride down on from Cincinnati?”

Word association is useful in helping to remember names as well. For example, when meeting Susie for the first time, you may think about the song, “Wake Up Little Susie.” I have a friend who just started dating a fellow named Johnny. She told me his name just once, and I immediately associated it with the 1958 Chuck Berry rock and roll song, “Johnny B. Goode.” It may sound silly, but it works.

What about names those names that are difficult to pronounce? Ask them to repeat it, smiling as you share with them that you don't want to “butcher it.”

Or if you prefer, use a more straightforward method by telling them their name is important to you and you want to get it right. And if you just plain missed the name, it's perfectly acceptable and never too late to say, “I'm so sorry. I missed your name. Would you share it with me again?”

Never assume it's OK to call a prospect or customer by his or her first name until they have made it clear that you may do so. You run the risk of insulting them if they prefer a more formal acknowledgment. If you call the customer “Mr. Jones” and he prefers that you call him Tom, he'll tell you to call him Tom.

However, when first meeting a prospect and introducing yourself, a sales technique for warming and speeding up the connection is to extend a handshake while saying, “Hi, I'm Susan Miller, but my friends call me Susan. And you are?” Often the prospect will respond in kind with a first name, thus speeding up the relationship to the more relaxed use of first names. The Law of Reciprocity in action.

Shakespeare wrote that a rose called by any other name would smell as sweet. Maybe so, but assuming it's clear that first names are OK, then that's what I want to be called — Rose. Not “Honey.” Not “Sweetie.” I see this from time to time, and while I can't quite put my finger on the reason why, it rubs me the wrong way — primarily when the person calling me “Darlin'” is younger than me. Maybe I'm jealous that youth is on their side, I don't know. But in my book age garners respect.

Why did Frazier, Cliff, and Norm all hang out at the Cheers tavern? Because it was a place “where everybody knows your name.” Are your customers nameless?

Contact Susan Miller at miller_susan@colstate.edu and visit the Cunningham Center Web site at http://ccld.colstate.edu.

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