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As Dale Carnegie's sixth principle teaches us, the sound of a person's name is the sweetest and most important sound to that person. It is an immutable truth, because our name is not just a few letters on paper — it's a part of who we are. If you look at your social security number (also something that identifies you), you probably don't feel any emotion. But your name? That's you.

For the past few months, I've made a conscious effort to address people by their names, specifically people who you normally would not. The person who makes your sandwich at the deli. The young girl who rings up your groceries. The teller at the bank. These are people who have always worn name tags as a matter of course, but those name tags seldom serve any purpose — we normally just mumble a "thanks" and then move on.

It has been astonishing to me to notice how it impacts people like this, to hear their name spoken right after that "thanks." Eye contact where there wasn't any before. A smile. A mood that has visibly been lifted. This is no longer just the guy who makes my sandwich or the girl who sells me groceries. This is Peter, and that is Susan. It is validating to them as human beings.

Now, this is me as a shopper, addressing the service employee. Why isn't this happening the other way around?

Because the fact is, unless you're dealing with a cash transaction, your retail associates have the name of the customer embossed on the little rectangular piece of plastic that is handed to them at the moment of sale. How many of them think to take a half-second to look down at that name, then thank the customer by that name?

Again, for cash transactions this is a moot point. But I would submit that for all credit and debit transactions, there is no excuse for your associates to not thank their customers by name. It's simple, it costs nothing, and it can be transformative for your relationship with your customers.

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User Comments – Give us your opinion!
  • Rahul Patwardhan
    I think you have made a great point here! I would be really happy if somebody does that to me. I think it's not just about making customer happy but if you look at the big picture it shows how the employees are trained, the company culture & how they are building customer lifetime value.
  • Brenda Bell
    I'm of a mixed mind here. While using a customer's name may signal that you know and value him (or her) and his (or her) decision to shop at your establishment, the growing threat of identity theft means that every time you use a customer's name, someone else might be listening, trying to find enough about that person to steal all or parts of his (or her) identity. This has gotten to the point where many credit- and debit-card holders refuse to sign the backs of their cards, saying that it would make it easier for a potential thief to be able to forge their signatures. (I'm sure many long-term retailers will rant about looking up card numbers in a book, calling for authorization, comparing the customer's signature on form and card to two other pieces of identification, and so on...) Perhaps the key is to address your customers by name while serving them on the floor, but to keep their names discreet when leading them to the check-out or processing their payments?
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Senior Editor

Latest posts by James Bickers
James Bickers
James Bickers is the senior editor of Retail Customer Experience, and also manages webinars for Networld Media Group. He has more than 20 years experience as a journalist and innovative content strategist, with publication credits in national, international and regional publications.
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