Say the Customer’s Name Lessons for Startups

 In Benefit Venture Blog, Insights, Leadership, People

Say the Customer’s Name: “Hello My Keyser, said Pricilla. Nothing very extraordinary about that, but Matt greets me that way, too. Both are Pharmacy Technicians at my local Walgreens, which I visit about twice a month. When I ask to speak with Annah, the Pharmacist for advice, she sends me on my way saying, “Goodbye, Mr Keyser.”

My name is a bit odd, and people sometimes have difficulty with the pronunciation. I generally put them right, if they get it wrong. When I ask Priscilla or Matt why they bother to remember say the customer’s name, their answers, are generally something like, “I like to remember names”. They say it helps customers feel better, and they do, too. Of course, it’s easy for me, since they have name badges.

What has to happen, though is for employees to make an active commitment to remember to say the customer’s say the customers namename. It’s also good to share your process and experience with colleagues. In itself, this is no easy task. When you try to remember to say the customer’s name, repeat it to yourself and give your forehead a nudge when you forget. Neuroscientists will tell you that it’s the frontal lobe that needs a jog!

Five Ways to Remember to Say the Customer’s Name

Here are five effective ways you can help yourself to remember to say the customer’s name:

  1. If you have the customer’s name in front of you, e.g., on an order; use it to greet the person. If not, find a way to have them tell you their name.

  2. Make a point of engaging with the customer; talk with them as individuals, not as generic customers. Pick up on issues that are apparent, in a personal way.

  3. Repeat their name in the encounter. This is especially easy when you have their name in front of you, e.g. on a prescription.

  4. Try to make an association with the name, e.g., “Mr Keyser—the British dude.”

  5. Always end the encounter by repeating their name, as in, “Thank you Mr Keyser.” It helps you and reassures the customer.

Say the Customer’s Name—It’s a Winning ‘App’

In business there is no magic. In a company as big as Walgreens Boots Alliance with nearly half a million employees, it seems to me astonishing that I would receive such personal service. You might expect that with so many people employed, there would be no room for such personal behaviors.

The contrary is true. Allowing, or even encouraging, individual responsibility for such customer interaction is actually a winning ‘app’. Certainly in my experience as a customer, it makes for loyalty to the brand and more. In my opinion too, the smiles on the faces of Pricilla, Matt and Annah are genuine. They are not merely the application of some HR policy, ordained by senior management, who have no idea what it’s like to work on the front line.

If the result of saying the customer’s name works for both customer and store assistant, two things generally result:

  • the staff member feels better about the job and minor niggles about the employer fade;

  • customers feel better about the store, the purchase, and will likely (a) spend more, as well as (b) make favorable recommendations to others.

AND, the App costs nothing! A great benefit for Walgreens, who face a huge challenge in the age of Amazon. Andrea Farris, VP of Special Projects at Walgreens says, “The minute you walk away from a customer, you risk losing a sale. The customer can decide to purchase at another time or another retailer.”

Multinational Managers Can Emulate the Startup Founder

The store manager of a big retail chain can emulate the startup founder, too. Michael, the manager of the Walgreens I frequent, certainly behaves that way. He is a 20-year veteran of the company and many years ago was introduced to Jim Collins’s book, Good to Great (2001). Collins cited Walgreens as one of the Great companies.

Michael remembers that some years back the company published ‘Walgreens Seven Service Basics‘, somewhat based on the book. It’s a creed that he still employs today in the management of his store. He encourages staff to use customer names, and indeed when he has had a recent interaction with me, he remembers mine, himself.

The seventh of the ‘Service Basics’ is “Surprise (Most customers don’t expect you to go out of your way to help. Surprise a customer with extra-good service and you’ll win their loyalty.)” I do notice Michael, almost every time I visit the store. His behavior is recognizably emulated by his staff members. The feeling in the store reflects his leadership.

Lessons for Startups, including “Don’t Walk Away”

If a multinational with sales of nearly $140 billion has employees like Priscilla, Matt, Annah and Michael, how easy must it be for a startup business to have people who behave like them—since there may only be a handful of employees?

Startups, even those online, would do well to heed Andrea’s caution about not walking away. It is even easier for a startup while still small, to avoid abandoning a prospective customer in person or online.

In the case of startups that are ‘in person’ to the customer, particularly those in retail, or seeking a local market, should be operating just like Priscilla, Matt, Annah and Michael. Even Walgreens knows that they have a wonderful advantage over online retailers—their physical stores are accessible to 78% of the US population

Simulate the Personal on the Internet

In the Internet age, the startup founder needs to find creative ways to simulate Priscilla, Matt, Annah and Michael, even online. The website or blog has to be intimate, to the extent that the site must be user friendly. If the new venture operates a customer service operation, it’s not much use to have half-an-hour wait times, or a call back system that does not return calls.

Never leave an online message active for a long period of time if it says something like, “due to a greater volume of calls than normal…” People know that’s not true all the time. To me, it says, “we don’t care about customers who are fools, anyway”!

Listen to Andrea. Never walk away from customers! I have noticed in over 50 years of being in business and observing startups on two continents, is that behavior is contagious. Sadly though, bad behavior seems more contagious than good behavior.

Research shows that people tend to focus more on the negative as they observe what’s happening. We pay less attention to positive things, and we tend to learn more from negative experiences. What’s worse, is that we often make decisions or behave in a certain way using negative, more than positive data.

Founders as Role Models

In my main startup, back in 1981, one of our ‘rules’ was that we should be our ‘own first customers’. In other words, our behavior should demonstrate how our customers would expect or like us to be. Good entrepreneurs who habitually reveal themselves by the way they behave—to show who they really are, and what their venture represents. Have a look at the post on Entrepreneurial Empathy.

We found over the years that this, and the values that flowed from the aspiration, was actually one of the most important in recruiting good people to join the company. It also reinforced the nature of the company and the way that everyone behaved. Though our turnover was only about $4 million when we sold the company 11 years later, several of our recruits later set up their own businesses and followed the behavioral norms that we had established in our startup.

This requires commitment, too. Many founders are so focused on getting the business off the ground, no matter what. They easily forget that their behavior is imitated by staff members, since a new venture often has no established norms for them to follow.

Founders need to lead the startup with a great deal of self-awareness and the ability to discern the behaviors that contribute to success. Charisma may be great on stage, but humility works better in the fast pace of business startup.

At the same time, I acknowledge that integrity is tough. When I started my first business, I carried with me that certain things in business were givens. I would tend to argue my corner, not aware that I was making assumptions. The worst of them became apparent when we opened for business and got on the road to meet prospective clients. For instance, one of my assumptions was that the prospect wanted to know about our product (because I was so excited about it). What I really needed to do, was to ask the prospect all sorts of questions, so that I could understand their needs.

In other words, relationships come first, sales follow.say the customer's name

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