Sunday, July 07, 2013

Identify yourself!

In a service business you have to ask for people's names and other information.

For some reason, the question, "what's your name?" has always made me uncomfortable. Maybe it's because I was a rather paranoid child. Why do you want to know my name? What are you going to do with that information?

When a name is not required, I don't ask for it. It feels like prying. I'll be the superhero with the secret identity and you be the anonymous citizen whose bacon I save. We'll share a momentary look of understanding and then I'll mysteriously vanish and you go on with your life.

On repair forms I just hand the customer the clip board and say, "could you just fill out the contact info on the top here while I check a few things on your bike?" This legitimately lets me perform necessary tasks like measuring chain wear and checking tire condition while the customer performs the equally necessary task of giving us a way to get their bike back to them when we've finished with it. We see many people only a few times or for a short period every year, so they might remember a lot about us while we only have a nagging feeling we're supposed to know them. So, big smile, give them the clip board, look busy and they will tell us without having to be asked directly, "who the heck are you, anyway?"

Sales people will ask for a customer's name to try to personalize the process. Really good ones actually do manage to establish a friendly atmosphere. Far too many others just look like they were trained to try to establish a friendly atmosphere. When forced into a selling situation because the shop is busy or shorthanded -- in other words nearly any day -- I will always give the clearest and best information I have. I don't need to know anyone's name. As long as I know what I need to know to fit a person to the product, asking their name just feels like prying or manipulation.

This morning I thought of a new approach to try. Instead of asking, "What's your name?" I'll ask, "What would you like to be called?" That way they can give me their real name or make something up...which they might be doing anyway, but this puts me in the position of opening that door and being super accommodating rather than intrusive and possibly authoritarian ("Show me your papers! What's your business here?") or smarmily friendly. I really don't care who you are. I'm here to do the best job for you that I can. In this context that's all we really need to know about each other.

Over time some relationships deepen. Compatible traits emerge through interaction. Or identity grows from accumulated incidents whether it's friendly or merely cordially businesslike. Because it happens naturally it doesn't have that awkward scripted feeling.

A few of our regular customers are prominent and at least one is an actor with a long resume. Other more transient customers might also work in entertainment. In that case, delivering a line in a stilted fashion feels particularly conspicuous. Better just to smile neutrally and keep everything friendly but impersonal. I did hear that one of them got pestered at the dive shop up the street by people wanting their picture taken. He may even enjoy that. But I would tend to believe that it would be more relaxing to be treated as a person rather than a public facility anyone can go up and jump all over.

So...what would you like to be called?


Steve A said...

"My name is 'Cafiend.'"

cafiend said...

"My name? My name is not important."

Unknown said...

My name? Enrico Gimondi
The one...and only Biklangelo