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"They spelled my name wrong again!" sings Loudon Wainwright III, the incomparable (if hard-to-spell) singer-songwriter.

In business, many of our customers with hard-to-spell names can relate to Loudon’s frustration of seeing "my name up there in lights"… and then noticing "it's not spelled right."

The pranks we play in business on customers’ names are legion.

  • Misspellings
  • Unsolicited shortenings and nicknames (“Do you mind if I call you Debbie?”)  
  • Mispronunciations (nothing’s more grating than a sycophantic salesman inserting your name into every other sentence… but doing so with the wrong pronunciation).

A happy event recently reminded me of the importance of getting the little details about your customers right. Pete Brace of Merrick Pet Care sent our four dogs some fantastic dog food and related awesome swag. It was an amazing care package; I’ve rarely seen our dogs so happy.

But most impressive? Mr. Brace had spelled not only my name correctly in the cover note, but the names of each of our four dogs perfectly (Potter, Petey, CT, and Weasley, in case you were curious).

It’s true, in the age of cut and paste there’s almost no excuse for misspelling your customers’ names. Or getting their other little details wrong. Yet Pete’s perfectly-spelled cover letter remains the exception.

It’s hard to give extraordinary service if you’re not paying attention. An organization like the Ritz-Carlton gets to know its guests to the point of figuring out which corner of the bed they prefer to have turned down in the evenings before they get into bed (yes, we each have a preference in this area — think about it). This gives a cared-for feeling that is hard for a customer to ignore.

This is the level of service I urge us all to aspire to. But first, we have to get your customers’ names right. Or the game is up before it even starts.

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User Comments – Give us your opinion!
  • Scott Heitland
    As Dale Carnegie tells us in How To Win Friends and Influence People, "remember that a person's name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language."
  • Steve Cohn
    HA! Great piece and a constant topic of conversation in my customer experience seminars. Here's mine: Growing up in New York, people were always getting the spelling of my name wrong, spelling it C-O-H-E-N, rather than it's actual spelling, C-O-H-N. It was annoying, but predictable. We moved to Atlanta in '93 when my wife was transferred. On our first visit to a restaurant, they said, "Name?" I said, "Cohn". He said, "C-O-N-E?" I said, "Yeah, whatever."
  • Micah Solomon
    Thanks so much, guys. Scott, absolutely... but Mr. Carnegie's famous advice falls flat when the customer-facing employee relentlessly and cheerfully persists in using someone's name INCORRECTLY. Steve, that's hilarious. Having a similarly ethnic last name, I can't even count the number of times people try to give me an unwarranted "a" in the spelling.
  • Yvonne Anderson
    But what is even more funny- your dogs didn't care if their names were spelled correctly or not- maybe us humans are really to sensitive and focused on the wrong thing. It is the swag in the bag not the name on the placard.
  • Micah Solomon
    Well, yeah. Just like babies don't care if you misspell their names--but their parents (the ones with the wallets) do.
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