The Name Game

Discussion
Feb 07, 2006
George Anderson

By George Anderson


A recent Consummate Consumer column in the Washington Post says shoppers in the D.C. area are less than happy about stores that have cashiers thank club and credit card customers by name as part of company policy.


Many consumers, it seems, would prefer to remain anonymous and do not want their name being said out loud in the store.


Some see the practice as an invasion of privacy. Others see it as adding time to the checkout process, especially when the cashier struggles to come up with the right pronunciation of a customer’s name.


The security aspect of the issue, it turns out, is very real.


One reader wrote that in Hilton Head, S.C., a woman who shopped at a store was addressed by name. When she got home she received a call from a person who said he was the store manager. The woman was asked for her credit card number to re-run the order because of a computer error. The woman gave her information and the thief was off and running.


“It’s a familiar scenario,” confirms Debbie Szpanka, spokeswoman for the Beaufort County sheriff’s office in Hilton Head.


Safeway is one of the companies that wants its cashiers to address customers by name.


“It is one of the ways we are providing superior customer service,” said Greg Ten Eyck, director of public affairs for the company’s eastern division. “We’ve had it in place since the early 1990s. We have 1,800 stores throughout the U.S. and Canada and very rarely do we hear any consumers express that they don’t like it.”


Paul McAdam, senior managing director of research at BAI, said that the majority of consumers do not want to be addressed by name. In a survey of 3,700 banking customers, “only 23 percent responded favorably” to being addressed by name by tellers.


Moderator’s Comment: Is the practice of addressing shoppers by name at the checkout good customer service or something considerably less desirable? What
are best in class stores doing to provide their customers with superior customer service?

George Anderson – Moderator

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22 Comments on "The Name Game"


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jack flanagan
Guest
15 years 19 days ago

This mechanistic reading back of the customer’s name reminds me of my own favorite customer service disconnect.

At a national ‘full service’ department store chain I have never had anything approaching a quick, easy checkout. Invariably however, after keeping me (and other customers) waiting for an interminable amount of time, they unfailingly say “Thank you Mr. BoatSchool for shopping at …” Commitment to exceptional service ? I don’t think so.

Karen Ribler
Guest
Karen Ribler
15 years 19 days ago

I also shop at Safeway and never really minded the salutation. I didn’t give it much thought. But after reading the Post article, two thoughts came to mind — friendliness at the checkout stand is appreciated by me and I like to shop in a store where upon completing the transaction the person is pleasant. I don’t need name recognition, nor after thinking about it, want to be addressed by my name.

I do want the closure of my shopping experience to be light, and do notice in a competitor’s store my experience to be just the opposite. Maybe Safeway does not have the script just right, but the experience of leaving their store with a pleasant interaction has influenced my decision to return to their stores.

Stan Barrett
Guest
Stan Barrett
15 years 19 days ago
For those of you who think this simple name calling “connects” you to the shopping experience, do not shop at Safeway in the greater D.C. area (at least not the new “lifestyle” store in VA.) Typically, you are not checked out by a person you know or who even recognizes you. You might be lucky enough to find someone who lives in your community, but just as likely not. It is a half-hearted attempt at best and quite frequently is read directly off the receipt. I worked retail right out of college in the feed (for animals) industry and we got to know our customers, and only then did we address them by name (and we’d introduce ourselves to them as a way of doing so!). As another example, I am sure a lot of you go to trade events. Would you think of going up to someone you don’t know and calling them by name when your only connection is that you can read their name badge? Will calling me by name eliminate me… Read more »
Bob Sherwood
Guest
Bob Sherwood
15 years 19 days ago

There’s another side to the equation that has not yet been considered. Many of you have commented on the lack of familiarity with cashiers… Consider this dialogue.

Good afternoon, my name is Faridah and I will be checking out your groceries today. Please relax while I take a few minutes to review my technical competence to undertake this transaction. On my left is the cash register, and directly in front is the scanner which will not only record the price but also collect valuable information about what you are purchasing that will be used by the marketing department to try and sell you more of the same in the future.

While I have been asked to thank you by name, rest assured that by the time I have rung through the other 97 customers I will see on this shift, your face and name will long be forgotten, but your shopping legacy lives on.

Gina Burns
Guest
Gina Burns
15 years 19 days ago

Kmart has the practice of calling the customer by name…Who I am is my business not the person standing in line behind me.

It is not good customer service to call me by name, it is good customer service to have experienced, intelligent associates on the floor who can help me when I need it. There are very few in these stores, so I don’t shop there anymore for these reasons; poor, to no customer service, and it’s none of anyone’s business who I am.

John Hennessy
Guest
John Hennessy
15 years 19 days ago

Being told to address customers by their name and doing so by reading it off a screen is a mechanical job task that can be as badly received as it was executed.

An environment where it would be rude not to ask and use a customer’s name as you serve them is a very different scenario and one where using a shopper’s name would be natural and appreciated.

Tom Chisari
Guest
Tom Chisari
15 years 19 days ago

It’s not so much the use of my name that bothers me, it’s the additional time I have to stand there while the cashier figures out how to pronounce it — and holds onto my receipt in the process. By the time I’ve gotten my change, I’m anxious to get out and get on with my day, and don’t want to stand around teaching phonics. I’m thinking of re-registering with a false name — call me Mr. Customer or Mr. Wonderful, just expedite my transaction, which is really the true definition of customer service!

Jeff Weitzman
Guest
Jeff Weitzman
15 years 19 days ago

I think it just serves to remind us of how much info about us is carried across the ‘nets every day. “How the heck does she know my name and why is she using it?” was my first reaction, quickly realizing that my credit card carries my name and it was now printed on my receipt. The next thing I thought was “management probably requires them to use my name now, because they think I’m naive enough to believe that someone when a checkout clerk manages to read my name off a piece of paper, it will make me hearken back to days of yore, when the person behind the register actually *did* know my name. Without checking.

For me, file this practice under absurd. A nice smile and a “thanks for shopping with us, have a great day” would be a thousand times more effective.

M. Jericho Banks PhD
Guest
M. Jericho Banks PhD
15 years 19 days ago

I’m primarily a Safeway shopper and I hate this practice, especially when I’m unshaven or coming from a just-completed workout. I really prefer anonymity. Additionally, I’ve always suspected that women wouldn’t appreciate this supposed “courtesy,” in case the guy behind them in the checkout line was a weirdo. (Seriously, imagine a cell phone with photographic and recording capabilities in the hands of one of those guys at that time.)

I also don’t appreciate checkers commenting on my purchases. “Having a big party, Dr. Banks?” “Looking to increase your serum cholesterol Dr. Banks?” “Feeling under the weather, Dr. Banks?” My response is always, “Do they train you to comment on customer purchases or did you think of that on your own?” Safeway checkers now avoid eye-contact with me (but then, that’s nothing new). Yet, I’ve always secretly anticipated a mindless checker comment on the purchase of a 12-pack of bath tissue: “Feeling a little wiped out, Dr. Banks?”

Bernice Hurst
Guest
15 years 19 days ago
Once again we seem to be saying that good customer service depends on knowing your customers and what they like/dislike. Using the name of a customer the checkout person knows is good; using the name because someone told them too, and compounding that by either mispronouncing and/or just reading it off a card without even making eye contact is BAD. Not to mention patronising and irritating. No wonder some people may react badly. My favourite retailers have checkout staff that make eye contact and say hello at the beginning of the transaction and thank you at the end. They do not use the now ubiquitously gratuitous “Have a good day” that probably started out as someone’s good intention but rapidly became the epitome of indifferent service. As for security, I wholly admit that I am naive in the extreme. The case given sounds extremely likely although it would not have occurred to me as a potential problem. When my mother recently complained because a checkout person had called her, repeatedly, by her first name the… Read more »
George Whalin
Guest
George Whalin
15 years 19 days ago
Thanking the customer by name is a good idea. Unfortunately, far too often the customer’s name is mispronounced, the cashier does it with little or no actual sincerity, or, in this situation, the customer doesn’t want them doing it at all. Having customer contact people simply say “thank you ma’m or sir” has served many retailers well for many years. When done with honesty and sincerity, the customer will understand, value and appreciate the gesture. The problem with many customer service initiatives is in the execution. Every day, in thousands of stores, customers leave with the feeling they aren’t very important to that retailer or the associates working in those stores. In many stores the customer isn’t greeted, acknowledged or thanked. I’ve been in the business of helping retailers better serve their customers for nearly twenty years. Far too often I find that retailers talk about how important their customers are yet they fail to make the commitment of time, resources and dollars needed to deliver a pleasant, positive experience in their stores for every… Read more »
Gene Hoffman
Guest
Gene Hoffman
15 years 19 days ago

It’s different strokes for different folks. Just look at the varied results of today’s survey. Retailers should do a little gauging of their key customers and then decide which policy is best for their store(s). It doesn’t require reliance on rocket science.

Don Delzell
Guest
Don Delzell
15 years 19 days ago
Kai Clarke has opened the correct Pandora’s box. I can absolutely conceive of a well defined and executed customer service strategy and program in which acknowledging customers by name is appropriate. I can conceive of an infinite number where it is not appropriate. Can we please get past customer service as saying “hi” to the customer? The industry really can get it’s mind around customer service as an organizational core competency, defined by truly connecting with and meeting specific high value needs of the target consumer. Customer service should and must be in the top three of core competencies of any retailer who competes outside of the low cost/low price operator model. Go right ahead and be specific about the needs you are going to meet, and the value you ascribe to meeting them. And then, and only then, initiate specific action designed to support those goals and meet those needs. Does greeting the customer by name, based on private information, support customer service? At Nordstrom, it may very well, particularly if the information provides… Read more »
Mark Barnhouse
Guest
Mark Barnhouse
15 years 19 days ago

Being called by my name as the last part of my experience at Safeway only embitters me toward that company. Now I only use my local Safeway to buy gas, since it’s on my way to work and its prices are lower than Shell — and for that reason only.

The person gratuitously using my name doesn’t know my face, doesn’t know that I rarely darken the doors of her store, and — worst of all — doesn’t know how to pronounce my name — which is simply made of two common nouns joined together.

Safeway and other retailers catering to the masses should stop this Orwellian practice.

Kai Clarke
Guest
15 years 19 days ago

I agree with Mark and Carl on many of their points here, as well as the article. We need to have customer service reflect the needs of the customer. If the majority of customers want to be called by name, after paying for their purchase, we would certainly be hearing about it. Instead, most folks would appreciate an anonymous thank you. Customer service is not customer recognition, and we need to distinguish between the two. More effort needs to be focused on servicing customer’s needs (like adding more checkers) rather than a security concern about openly addressing customers.

Mark Lilien
Guest
15 years 19 days ago

In marketing, some people believe the Golden Rule is, “Treat others the way you’d like to be treated.” The CORRECT version for successful marketers is, “Treat others as they wish to be treated.” If the supermarket CEO wants salespeople and cashiers to recognize him by name, then they should. But if certain customers don’t want to be recognized by name, it pays to honor the request. And some people with unusual names don’t want to waste time training people they’ll never see again how to correctly pronounce the name.

Even more annoying: when you’re on the phone with a call center operator, and she/he won’t give her last name even though he/she has your complete name.

Mark Heckman
Guest
15 years 19 days ago

I think it unwise to over-react to some consumers being uncomfortable to being called by name at the checkout. In fact, retailers that have solid CRM programs and have conditioned their shoppers to expect this type of in-store personalization typically get high marks for a full range of customer recognition practices.

I believe a ‘disconnect’ occurs, however, when customer recognition appears to be gratuitous or ad hoc. In other words, if reading the shopper’s name off a check or credit card is the only instance of customer recognition at a particular retailer, it is not surprising that the shopper does not have or even expect a relationship with the retailer and may feel uncomfortable with this practice.

My advice to retailers who want to recognize shoppers and thank them by name is to make sure this practice is not an isolated example of customer recognition, but rather a small piece of a more comprehensive loyalty program that has conditioned the shopper to expect and welcome a personalized relationship with the retailer.

Dean Cruse
Guest
Dean Cruse
15 years 19 days ago

Depends on the retailer you’re talking about, I think. For stores we frequent on a weekly basis – the grocery store for example – recognizing you by name is fine, in fact I think it supports the community feel that the grocery store should have. At our local grocery store, we shop next to our neighbors and are often checked out by high school kids with whom our children go to school. I’m not sure the banking study is particularly relevant to grocery shoppers. For other retailers, however, those we visit less frequently, it probably is. Being called out by name at a specialty retailer that I visit once a month (at the most) might be a little creepy, and given the other customers with whom I am not familiar, might represent a risk.

Warren Thayer
Guest
15 years 19 days ago

As Uncle Wiggly would have said, “Goodness gracious, and a piece of pie!” Merry Christmas, George!

Mark Hunter
Guest
Mark Hunter
15 years 19 days ago

It’s over the top and people are seeing through the mockery of it. When a policy exists to address the person by their name as a way of connecting with the customer it sounds great but when the very same employees act rudely and are unresponsive to customers in every other area of the store, there is a huge disconnect. Sorry, but here’s an idea that sounds great in a boardroom full of executives who have no clue as to what the typical consumer experiences when shopping.

Carol Spieckerman
Guest
15 years 19 days ago
Mark touched on my reason for preferring not to be called by name…or should I say, preferring not to listen to attempts at being calling by name. Folks get the pronunciation of my last name right app. 5% of the time – listening to someone take multiple stabs at it has the effect of making the experience LESS personal. That said, when I was at the Prescriptives counter the other day and the sales clerk remembered not only my first name but also my custom makeup preferences and purchases (BEFORE looking at my client card), I was truly impressed at her more-than-perfunctory customer knowledge and it stoked my loyalty to that location. Finally, I’ll give a recent bad example. During a visit to a cutting-edge Wal-Mart (one of their test stores), I spent over twenty minutes at the checkout as three clerks called in to my credit card company to approve a large purchase (why does this ONLY happen at Wal-Mart?). In the course of the exchange not only was my name shouted out several… Read more »
Robert Immel
Guest
Robert Immel
15 years 18 days ago

Sorry to disagree, but I enjoy being called by my surname at my local Safeway. The cashiers are very genuine when they do it, and if I’m having a bad day, it seems to be the one high point in my day to have a pleasant face saying thank you.

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