Let’s Get Personal

Every time I go in my bank I expect to hear one of the clerks I’ve seen many times to call me by name. It never happens. I am in there every week or two and have been using this bank for 15 years. They are consistent. No one, even if they’ve seen me a dozen times in recent months, knows my name or remembers anything about me. They do ask me questions about our business and what we do for a living, but they don’t remember a week later or connect the story with me.

Yes, I live in a college town with lots of staff turnover. Bank tellers see a lot of people in a day. But the lady that cuts my hair every six to twelve weeks remembers me and chats about what I’ve been doing lately, starting from where our conversation left off the time before. She bothers to remember regular customers. What’s the difference?

This simple nametag invites  guests to chat with Nancy and her smile is welcoming at Longwood Gardens in Philadelphia.
This simple nametag invites guests to chat with Nancy and her smile is welcoming at Longwood Gardens in Philadelphia.

Many of your employees or colleagues will only see a guest one time for a few moments. I don’t expect the personalization there, but if you run an organization with memberships and repeat visitors, be assured they will notice whether you remember them or not. Most membership software can be customized to differentiate between legal names and the nickname a member prefers or the title, if they wish to be addressed as Doctor or Reverend. Some software allows you to make additional notes about family members and preferences.

You have an opportunity to get personal every single day you meet customers, clients and members. You can find out who they are and what interests they have. You can share your own personal story, your passion about what you do for a living.  You can have that conversation that both you and your guest will remember. In a community where people come back regularly to places they enjoy, relationships grow and become more important when customers are treated less like customers and more like extended family.

So how do you encourage your staff to get more personal without being intrusive? I like nametags with first names and the city or state where the worker grew up. At a park, zoo, museum or resort that location can be a real conversation starter and many concessionaires and resort operators use this technique. I see “Illinois” on a tag and I explain I grew up there. We are off and talking. It is a starting place. But a name tag with a last name or “Officer Jones” is off-putting. It is a way of saying, “keep your distance.” Worse yet, no nametag at all makes it hard for guests to know who works at the site and whether it’s okay to ask questions or start a conversation.

I like it that this docent at an aquarium has a name tag and clear ID as a volunteer.
I like it that this docent at an aquarium has a name tag and clear ID as a volunteer. It also recognizes that he has put in more than 500 hours.

When you are going to spend all day or multiple days touring with a specific group of people who have just met, name tags for everyone makes it easier for the group members to get to know each other. I’m not suggesting you should always use first names. Some cultures (Chinese, for example) usually say Mr. or Ms. ________ as a usual protocol and prefer that. Some older Americans expect to be addressed more formally. But you can always ask for preferences or allow people to fill out a nametag by hand with how they wished to be addressed. They may actually prefer a nickname. If you solicit information for a tour because you will prepare nametags in advance, ask how they wish to be addressed. Do not assume. I’ve been Timothy my whole life due to a birth certificate, and I’m automatically irritated if called that. It tells me the person addressing me is looking at a legal identification and does not want to be more personal.

You can train your staff to be skilled in this area and help them build more lasting relationships with guests. And if your customers or members are from other nations or communities, training in cultural competency has great value.  You never get a second chance to make a first impression, so starting the conversation well matters.

And if I ever have the good luck to meet you in person, please, call me Tim.

– Tim Merriman

Published by heartfeltassociates

Lisa Brochu and Tim Merriman are married and serve as Principals of Heartfelt Associates. They write fiction and non-fiction, raise miniature horses and consult with parks, zoos, museums, historic sites, nature centers and aquariums on heritage interpretation and visitor experiences.They live on the Big Island of Hawaii on a small Kona coffee farm overlooking Kealakekua Bay.

2 thoughts on “Let’s Get Personal

  1. Hi Tim and Lisa,
    I enjoyed this blog about becoming more personal and coincidently I will have a little piece in the next Legacy about “personalizing the priceless ingredient.” The jist of it is the funny paradox that many of us love everybody (students, visitors, et al.) in general, but find it nearly impossible to like individual students, guests, etc. In light of both of us writing about interpreters becoming more personal, maybe what they say about great minds thinking alike applies to my mind too. 🙂 — Ted

    PS. I didn’t use this in my essay but this whole topic reminds me of what one of my old grouchy profs would say about students. “We should treat students more like people… some of them are like people.”

    1. Hi Ted,
      We enjoyed your old grouchy prof quote very much. Lisa read it over my shoulder when your comment landed. We’ll look forward to your “personalizing the priceless ingredient” article. It was great to see you Sigtuna, Sweden, at the Interpret Europe Conference. Your keynote was excellent.


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