Mastering the art of name recognition

What was that customer’s name again? Here are some handy tips


Debbie Solowski, owner of the Koi Cafe, often remembers her customers by their espresso drink order, as well as their name, at her coffee shop on State Street. On average, Solowski interacts with about 100 customers a day.


He looks kind of familiar.

He knows your name and is asking about how your son’s football season is going.

You think maybe his name is Steve … or Bill? But you can’t be sure, and the conversation is starting to get awkward.

Does this sound familiar?

Everyone has trouble remembering names and faces on occasion, but when your business depends on customer service to distinguish it from the crowd, having personable interactions with clients is a must.

Kristi Tyran said remembering and creating personable interactions with your clients or customers is important because people are more likely to do business with people they trust, and people trust people they know. Having personable interactions with your clients gains their trust, said Tyran, an associate professor of management at Western Washington University.

In fact, current research suggests that your social network, or “social capital,” goes a long way in getting you hired at a company or firm, she said.

For many business owners and professionals who deal with customers or clients on a regular basis, remembering names and personalities is a constant challenge.


Tricks and tips

Paul Kenner used to have a special name-remembering signal with his wife when the two worked together at his insurance agency. Occasionally, if he ran into a client who obviously knew him, but Kenner couldn’t remember the client’s name, he would scratch his back and his wife would come to the rescue.

Since then, Kenner, who is the owner of Snapper Shuler Kenner and is also an insurance agent, has evolved his name recognition tactics when it comes to his list of about 500 clients.

When Kenner first meets a client, he tries to repeat their name several times during the conversation. He tries to ask questions about things he can relate to, like children, in order to imprint their face and name in his mind.

“Most people I recognize and know their name and can remember things about,” he said. “It’s the person you meet once in two years that’s hard.”

By the nature of his job, Kenner is constantly looking for risk in his clients’ lives and “digging into what they’re doing,” taking notes about the projects they are bidding or issues they are dealing with. So he has a built-in record of their conversation in a file he can refer to.

Taking notes turns out to be a popular form of client recognition, especially for professionals in the health-care field.

Dr. Faith Bult sees about 25 patients a day at her dentistry office in Sehome Village.

“It’s really hard, but it’s really important for customer service to connect with patients,” she said. “I find a way to connect.”

Bult does this by taking notes about patients’ family vacations, their pets, what’s going on at their jobs or anything else exciting in their life during her visit with them. She also takes copious notes about things her customers like or dislike, such as certain products or procedures.

“I just need my memory jogged, and then it makes them feel important,” she said. “They’re not just a mouth. If I don’t have a personal connection, they’re not going to come back and see me.”

Dr. Dave Adich, a chiropractor who owns The Adich Clinic, sees about 40 patients a day and also uses notes to remember clients.

“With health care, you don’t have to remember names as much because you get their files, and that’s a good thing because I’m not the best with names,” he said. “I’m good at remembering their work and hobbies — all the things that come into their care.”

Adich makes an effort to get to know his patients during their first visit and takes notes on their needs, their interests and what is important to them. For example, he will make notes such as “loves to ride horses,” “plays soccer,” or “does karate.” The practice does double duty by helping him make diagnoses and by creating a more personal relationship, he said.

“It doesn’t matter what business we’re in — we’re in a relationship business,” he said. “Because (patients) can get the service many places, and if they’re not valued, they’ll go elsewhere.”

After seeing patients several times, Adich said he doesn’t need to rely on his file notations, but ultimately, he said, his patients just appreciate his attempt at familiarity.

“It’s all about making the effort. It’s not necessarily about remembering a name per se,” he said.

Instead of names, Debbie Solowski often remembers her customers by their espresso drink order, as well as their name, at her coffee shop on State Street, the Koi Café.

When she and her husband and co-owner, Aaron, recall a daily anecdote, they often refer to customers by their drinks. An event from her day might include a story about the “double vanilla latte lady,” she said.

On average, Solowski interacts with about 100 customers a day, approximately 70 percent of whom are regulars. Solowski said 14 years in the food industry has honed her memory skills and she tends to remember most of her customers’ names.

Solowski said sincerely having an interest in your customers and making conversation helps.

“Make eye contact and listen. Pay attention,” she said. “If you’re really interested in your customers, you’ll probably remember them.”


Taking it to the next level

For professionals wanting to build a network of valuable contacts and clients, Kristi Tyran, an associate professor of management at Western Washington University, suggests creating even more personable interactions.

Tyran encourages students in her management classes to develop their social capital by socializing with clients and peers at events, club meetings and lunches.

Using relationship-marketing software can also be a helpful tool for organizing client information. Such programs organize notes on basic contact information as well as birthdays, spouse information, anniversaries, preferred products, ordering history and other providers, which can be sorted and filtered.


Tips for remembering clients

  • Repeat a client’s name several times after meeting. This will help imprint the name in your mind.
  • Keep notes in the client’s file about things like family, vacations and other personal events or interests.
  • Make sure you are the type of person who really cares about your clients and that you’re in the right business. If you like people, you will want to get to know them and it will show.
  • Several books have been published on how to remember names and faces, including:
    “Remember Every Name Every Time: Corporate America’s Memory Master Reveals His Secrets,” by Benjamin Levy;
    “Never Forget a Name or Face,” by Dominic O’Brien;
    “How to Remember Names and Faces,” by A.G. Raab; and
    “How To Remember Names And Faces: How To Develop A Good Memory,” by Robert H. Nutt.


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