We’ve reached the seventh and final “sin” of mediocre customer service — forgetting a customer’s name.
Whenever I’ve asked a roomful of people, “How many of you are bad with names?” the vast majority of hands shoot up. In an increasingly connected culture, most people struggle with such a simple but critical step in making genuine connections.
If you’re serious about delivering consistently exceptional customer service, remembering names is a crucial skill.
The common excuse is “I’m just not good with names.” But, as memory expert Benjamin Levy asserts in his book, Remember Every Name Every Time, telling yourself you’re simply not good with names is a cop out. The truth is, we all have the potential to excel at recalling someone’s name. The problem… is us:
“We’re so unfocused on the person’s name we’re meeting that we never hear his or her name in the first place. Instead, we’re mired in self-consciousness, worrying about making a good impression: ‘Is my hair out of place? I can’t shake hands, mine’s too sweaty! Quick, think of something witty to say!’ In short, we’re so focused on ourselves that the other person remains a blur.”
Here are five simple steps designed to radically improve your ability to remember names from memory expert, Jim Kwik, who uses the acronym “SUAVE.” Having tried it, I found that it has dramatically improved my name recall. Here’s a brief explanation:
The S.U.A.V.E. Method
S – Say the name. It’s amazing how many people, when introduced to someone, will respond with, “Nice to meet you” without saying the other person’s name. Remember, repetition is power. Right off the bat, saying the person’s name immediately after hearing it will more than double the likelihood that you’ll remember it later.
U – Use the name. The more you repeat the name during the conversation — without abusing it — the more firmly you’ll ingrain it in your memory. Shoot for three to four times during a five minute conversation. This will seem awkward at first, but it will seriously enhance your name recall.
A – Ask about the name. Use this tool if the name is unusual — avoid it if the name is common. (You’ll likely come across like a dork.) You can ask about spelling, origin, meaning, etc. People respond to questions about their name. It resonates with them!
V – Visualize. One of the keystone habits of memory experts, visualization is one of the most basic of all skills, but few ever learn how to harness it’s tremendous power. Here’s an example:
Last year my wife, Debbie and I attended an eight week series at our church during which we sat at tables with two or three other couples. The first week, we struck up a conversation with a young couple sitting next to us. True to form, by the next week, I had completely forgotten both of their names, forcing my wife — who is much better at remembering names than I am — to bail me out. After forgetting their names each of the following two weeks, my wife finally whispered to me in an exasperated tone, “Sean Hannity.” When I responded, “What does Sean Hannity (the Fox News Talk Show Host) have to do with them?” she pointed across the table and said, “HE is Sean and SHE is Hanna.” Get it? Sean Hannity!” (I think she wanted to punctuate her point with something like, “You bonehead!” But since she was in church, she held back.) Without realizing it, Debbie used the most powerful tool the human brain has to retain information — the brain’s ability to form images. Seeing something in your mind — reading a description, for example, then looking away and re-visualizing it — is more effective than simply plowing through text. This same dynamic applies to remembering anything — especially names. It’s been over a year, and not only have I never forgotten the names of this engaging young couple, I never will forget them, because the mental association is so strong. It has attached itself to my brain like a suction cup thanks to a simple mental trigger.
E – End with the name. Instead of simply saying a goodbye, try to ensure that the last word you say to the person you just met is their name.
There you have it: Five simple steps to dramatically improve your name memory! Make a commitment to try these techniques for 30 days, then let me know how it goes.
Here’s a challenge that will get you more comfortable with this process: For the next week, everywhere you go where you encounter someone with a name tag – restaurants, grocery stores, coffee shops, etc. – make it a point to address the person serving you by name. Then make a mental note of both how you feel and the response you get from them. I think you’ll be happily surprised!