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5 Rules to Help You Remember Your Customers' Names

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By Joe Takash At a well-known Ivy League school, a new, prestigious science building was to be built on the north end of campus. The price: $260 million dollars. Three major construction companies were neck and neck to win the job, make a large profit and add this esteemed institution to their client list. The decision would come down to the sales presentation. The primary decision maker for Ivy U, Dr. Alice Dvorak, made an unusual request. She asked all contractors sit through each other’s presentations and address the selection committee in front of one another. Securing the business could mean many years of Ivy U projects, so each of them complied. The first two presentations went fine with each contractor discussing the construction logistics and how their “unique” approach to building was better than the rest. Then, the general manager for the third contractor began his presentation. “Dr. Dvorak, Mr. Avery, President Chambers, Vice President Allen and Madam Jameson, my name is Robert Small and on behalf of Elliott Construction Company, we are honored to be considered for the Leonard T. Abraham School of Sciences’ project.” At that moment, the energy changed. There was a warmth in Robert Small’s approach. He smiled, had a friendly, confident tone and looked each committee member in the eyes. But the difference was that Robert Small (who became very tall) addressed everyone, as well as the project itself, by name. As a furniture sales associate or manager, you may not be competing for a single $200 million sale, but the stakes for you are just as high. So how are you at remembering people’s names? a. Fantastic b. Not so hot c. Embarrassingly bad If you are like most people, you’ve checked off either B or C. What typically comes next is a litany of excuses like, “I’m good with faces, but not names,” or “I just have a block and I’ll never be good.” So why is it that you can meet someone, learn his or her name, and four seconds later, smile at them while thinking to yourself, “I have no idea what your name is”? Or why is that you’d rather yell out a random nickname like “Hey Big Shooter!” instead of saying “I’m sorry, please tell me your name again” when you forget a person’s name? There are a plethora of reasons why we forget names, but truth is, none of them matter. Your connection with the people whose names you can’t recall are far weaker than with those whose names you do remember. The following are five tips to help you remember names. They are simple in theory, but require practice, commitment and repetition. The results are well worth it for your business and your career. Rule #1 Ask people for names. How many times have you been to the same church, bar or gym, see the same people and never bother to introduce yourself? Think of the personal connections and professional opportunities you could be passing up! When it comes asking people’s names, simply think , “jump in the water it’s not that cold.” Be an initiator and approach others with courage on the outside, no matter how you feel inside. Rule #2 Spell and pronounce names correctly. These are paired together because they require similar efforts in clarifying, (not assuming), for accuracy. I was once introduced to speak to five hundred people in the following manner: “Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Mr. Joe Takass” (instead of Takash). This is not a lie. Taking time to assure the correct spelling and pronunciation is something to attend to in fine detail. Rule #3 Ask again when you forget. This may be the best but most underused tool. Chances are, all of us forget names immediately 80 percent of the time. By asking people again and again, you are simply informing them that you want to value them and their name is an attachment to that value. If the person gets upset simply tell him or her, “I’m very sorry, I just want to respect you by getting your name correctly.” It’s hard to argue with that. Rule #4 Remember! To lock names into your mental hard drive, use all tools possible. This can include rhymes like “Dan the man” or associations like “Rhonda from Reno.” Remembering requires an eclectic effort. Write names down, repeat them out loud, repeat them to yourself. Work hard and you will get in better name shape. Although you may feel uncomfortable in social situations writing down a person's name, doing so in a retail sales situation along with other information, can serve to show that you are listening and taking seriously what your customer is saying. Rule #5 Use them or lose them. In writing, on the phone or in person, use people’s names. When your name is called as someone who contributed to the success of a great team effort, it feels great. When your daughter’s name is on the Dean’s List, it looks like a work of art. Knowing names increases your confidence, makes others feel great and is a competitive advantage in business. In the case of Robert Small’s presentation to Ivy U, names have been changed to protect confidentiality. However, I know a construction person who bid on very similarly priced project with a very similar approach. Now, it is unrealistic that using people’s names could win a $260 million dollar project. Clearly, experience, knowledge and professional pedigrees must apply. However, a week after the presentation, he received a formally written letter that read, “Dear Robert, congratulations! All competitors were very impressive and capable of building this project, but we’ve selected Elliott Construction because we believe your personal connection and sense of team is what will make this a highly successful partnership.” So, what’s in a name? Everything! ABOUT THE AUTHOR Joe Takash, founder of Victory Consulting, is a business consultant and keynote speaker who specializes in leadership, motivation and selling skills. He helps clients like American Express, Prudential and General Motors, build morale, results and profits through relationships. A syndicated columnist, Joe has been featured in Entrepreneur, Selling Power, Crain’s New York and MSNBC.com. His forthcoming book from Wiley, “Results Through Relationships: Building Trust, Performance and Profit through People,” will be out in 2008. Visit www.joetakash.com or call: 888-918-3999.

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