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What I Learned About Using Names After Buying 1,800 Cups of Coffee

importance of names

Are you obsessed with coffee? In 2008, I started drinking coffee, the old-school energy drink. A couple of years later, I became a coffee snob when I started my new morning routine. Fast forward to today, and I only drink the “good coffee” from coffee shops. It’s pretty much on my to-do list. In 2017, after my 1,800th cup of coffee at a large chain, I had an aha moment.

Say My Name, Say My Name

To change up my normal routine, I headed to a different location within the same chain of coffee shops that I normally stop in to for my morning coffee. That morning, for the first time in 8 years, a barista used my name. Shocked, I paused and said, “You are the first person who has ever used my name at one of your coffee shops!” Something was very different, and I immediately felt valued by her. How do you feel when someone uses your name?

The Power of 2 Seconds

While turning to pour my coffee, the barista responded, “Really? That’s interesting.” She turned back and went on to say, “Oh, I know why no one has used your name. If you order a specialty drink, we write your name on the cup. Because you only order black coffee, we don’t write your name on the cup because the coffee is already brewed… it’s a quick transaction.” She continued to explain that the reason she used my name this time was because it only took her 2 extra seconds. When I scanned my phone to pay, she paused and looked at my name on the screen before she grabbed my coffee, and was happy to call me by name.

I said, “That makes sense.” The barista ended our conversation by saying, “I appreciate you letting me know. I’ll spread the word to our other baristas.” I walked away thinking what an easy concept to make an appreciable difference. How could you use technology more effectively? Could you treat people more like people, instead of a number?

Nothing Changed

For the next year, I continued to go to different locations of the same coffee chain. The days, weeks, and months passed. I appreciate the barista trying to spread the word regarding her own personal touch, but it never happened again. I was actually called by name only one time in over 1,800 visits. Has anyone ever used your name and made you feel more recognized or appreciated?

Because they win on speed, maybe they don’t care about my name. But could the lack of customer focus be why so many businesses, including gyms, struggle? I’ve officially moved on to a local coffee shop called Stone Creek Coffee, unless it’s more convenient and time is a consideration. No, the locals don’t use a phone app for payment. They do, however, call me by name every time they deliver their coffee to me. If you can’t compete in speed, then excel and win with friendly, personalized service. Which do you opt for, speed or service? I prefer the home-away-from-home service feeling.

Why Are Names Important?

When someone remembers our name after meeting us, we feel respected and more important. It puts us in a better mood. It’s the catalyst that can start a series of conversations, and we feel more engaged in those conversations. It makes a positive and lasting first impression on us. Not surprisingly, research bears this out. According to a Brain Research Magazine study, certain parts of the brain light up when we hear our own name. Do you light up when you hear your name?

Stop Making Excuses

So, what is holding you back from learning, using, and remembering more names at your gym? Bad memory, poor listening, self-absorption or not paying attention? Do any of those ring true? These might be legitimate reasons, but that doesn’t mean you can’t improve.

Truth: You obviously aren’t going to remember everyone’s name every single time. While we feel bad or guilty for not remembering a name, it’s to be expected sometimes. Here’s the problem — this guilt often causes people to disengage from future conversations. Give yourself permission to make a mistake and be forgetful. Then do something about it.

The FACE Technique

What is a simple technique to help you learn, use, and remember names? FACE!

F = Focus. Decide in the first 20 seconds that their name is the only thing that’s important to you.  

A = Ask. Ask whether you’ve heard their name correctly. You want the other person to know you care enough to get it right.

C = Connect. Our brains love to find images, patterns and connections. For example, you might think about a dollar bill the next time that you see Bill.  

E = End. Always end your interaction with someone by using his or her name. Using the person’s name at least two times in a conversation increases the likelihood you’ll remember the name.

People who are good at remembering names probably don’t have a better memory than you do. What they are better at is working at remembering names. What is your technique?

Is This A Waste of Time?

Recently, the leadership team at the Wisconsin Athletic Club (WAC) agreed that our No. 1 service goal for 2019 will be to call every member by name every time they visit. For that reason, one of our owners, Chez, and I, created and facilitated a couple of one-hour How to Learn, Use and Remember Names training sessions.

When I was talking to someone about the presentation, he said, “You seriously wasted one hour on training your staff on names?!” I said, “Yes! And, guess what? We had about 70 team members that showed up voluntarily, ready to learn. The impact can be memorable.”

ACTION: In order to learn, use and remember names, we have to slow down. At some point this week, use FACE. Take five minutes to give yourself the gift of a quality interaction.

Derek Deprey is the director of people and service at Wisconsin Athletic Club. He can be reached at ddeprey@thewac.com.

Derek Deprey

Derek Deprey is the director of people and service at Wisconsin Athletic Club.

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1 Comment

  1. Julie Lepianka March 11, 2019

    You can never go wrong by making someone feel “seen.”


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