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5 Ways to Help People Use Customer Names

We hear it everyday in our work. You’ve undoubtably heard it a million times, too. It’s one of the most common skill deficits people cite:

I’m horrible at remembering people’s names.

There are all sorts of variations to the above, including, “I’m great with faces – I never forgot a face,” and, “I’ve never been good with names.”

Let’s start by acknowledging that we’ve all fallen short here. I know nobody in our organization who hasn’t forgotten a name at least once, even though we teach this skill all the time.

The goal isn’t to expect perfection from your team or yourself, but to vastly enhance the ability of your organization to start and strengthen great customer relationships. Here are five actions you can take to get you there:

1. Lead by Example

Almost every Dale Carnegie graduate will tell you that if their initial focus in working with us was simply changing others, they soon realized that the best way to influence others was to change themselves. Using names is an important example of this influence and a reason we lead with it at the first session of many courses.

When others on your team see that you are able to remember and recall the names of internal and external customers consistently, it sets the tone for what’s expected in interactions from others. Our CEO Aaron Kent is stunning at remembering people’s names and recalling details from conversations years earlier. It pushes the rest of us to get better.

If you’re not yet reasonably proficient with using people’s names, focus on the next four steps yourself before attempting to influence your team.

2. Make the Case

Dale Carnegie said:

Remember that a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.

But how can you get others to appreciate this? Follow another one of Dale Carnegie’s principles: talk in terms of the other person’s interests.

Ask the individual or group involved to consider a time they were a customer and it became painfully apparent that someone did not remember their name, despite a lengthy relationship.

Then, ask them to consider a time when they noticed that someone clearly had made a point to use and remember their name. Ask them to contrast the two experiences.

Once people have examined both, make the case for your organization to use customer names consistently. Be an organization that makes people feel important – and does it sincerely.

3. Use Associations

While there are many great ways to get better at remembering people’s names, one of the best is to create an association. Simply put, you want to associate a name you are trying to remember with something you’re unlikely to forget.

A proven strategy for this is to imagine a silly story that includes the person you want to remember. For example, my colleague Nathan Czubaj once met a next door neighbor on a cold morning, just as the sun was rising. Since her name was Rachel, he imagined her walking out of her house, getting hit by the sun’s first RAY while getting CHILL from the morning air.

RAY-CHILL. Rachel.

He still remembers her name, years later. Seem silly? Try it. Memory champions use techniques exactly like this to remember large amounts of information.

Nathan and I describe exactly how to create and use name associations in this 8-minute audio. Listen with your team and start applying it immediately.

4. Challenge Assumptions

Sadly, it’s socially acceptable in a lot of workplaces just to say that you’re not good with remembering names and be done with it.

Without shaming people, challenge these assumptions when you hear them. When a client tells me they are horrible with names, one of the first things I want to know is how much time and effort they’ve put into getting better at it. Like any other skill, your ability level will closely correlate with the effort you’ve invested.

Many leaders would challenge statements like, “Well, I’m just not good at meeting deadlines.” Do the same to reset expectations on remembering the names of your customers.

5. Enhance With a CRM

Nobody has a perfect memory and almost everyone works with others to some extent. A simple CRM (customer relationship management) system can go a long way in organizing who knows who and some basic details about your important customers. We use Highrise since it’s entirely web-based and easy to share notes with our entire team.

Notice it says, “enhance” and not “replace.” A CRM is only as good as the information it contains and it never replaces the personal connection. Plus, no CRM is going to rescue you the moment you run into a important customer’s business partner at the restaurant tomorrow.

One Final Word

Use names to build a relationship, not to impress people. It’s a mistake to assume that just because you’ve remembered another person’s name means that you have a positive relationship with that person or that they owe you attention or agreement in return.

Remembering a name merely opens the door to build a stronger relationship – an opportunity that those who can’t remember names rarely receive.

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