Rules for Using Your Customer’s Name

Using customer names is the most simple form of service personalization, but it can go wrong. Here are five simple rules to use customer names effectively.

The most simple form of service personalization is to learn and use your customer’s name. It’s an undisputed fact of customer service that customers appreciate being recognized and remembered.

Unfortunately, the proliferation of this knowledge has led some service providers to assume that they can do no wrong. It’s apparent through interacting with these companies that representatives are not taught to use discretion when calling customers by their names. This leads to the customer’s name being misused, overused, and used against them in a way that is blatantly disrespectful.

Here are a few ideas for finding the right balance to using customer names:

Rule 1: Get It Right

The foundation of using customer names to build a connection is to get the name right. If you’re picking up the customer’s name from a record, like an account number, caller ID, or an IVR, make sure that you’re speaking with the person who’s name is on the account. It’s equally important to ensure that you’re pronouncing their name correctly, and it’s okay to ask, “Did I pronounce that right?” if you’re unsure. Finally, don’t give the customer nicknames unless they directly instruct you to do so, whether it’s well intended or not.

TIP: It really surprises customers when you know who they are when they call. If you can get a customer name from your IVR, that’s great, but only use it if you’re certain that you will pronounce it correctly. Additionally, it’s best to verify that you’re speaking with the person who’s name you looked up on the account. For instance, I usually begin my calls like, “My name is Andrew; am I speaking with John?”

Rule 2: Use the Correct Titles and Pronouns

Representatives frequently mistake me for a female on the phone, completely disregarding that Andrew is typically a male name. It’s usually an honest mistake, and it’s generally not worth the embarrassment to correct them. However, being called “ma’am” or “Ms. Gilliam” becomes extremely frustrating when it’s repeated over, and over, and over again, because some trainer has told them that I need to be reminded of my (incorrect) gender after every sentence. See Rule 1.

If you’re not absolutely certain of the correct way to address someone, simply skip it or just address them by their first name. Customers in this situation are usually accustomed to these mistakes, so simply avoiding these phrases altogether is a tremendous service improvement. Furthermore, if the customer offers you a correction, don’t make the mistake again.

Rule 3: Don’t Associate Their Name with Negativity

If you don’t want your company’s logo associated with environmental pollution, sweatshops, and child labor, it’s safe to say that your customers don’t want their identity associated with lost packages, cancelled flights, dead flowers, and unhelpful policies. Don’t use your customer’s name when expressing these unfortunate, although sometimes necessary, thoughts. Doing so makes these bad events more personal, and “that’s not our policy,” becomes, “THAT’S NOT OUR POLICY, ANDREW!!!”

Furthermore, don’t use the customer’s name to overtly sell them something they don’t want or force them into an answer they don’t want to hear. Your cable company’s “customer retention” department is probably the worst offender of this rule.

EXCEPTION: It may be acceptable to use their name only once in an apology when you’re expressing how your failure has affected them personally, such as, “I’m sorry to hear how much trouble this has caused you, Andrew.” Be sure to follow that statement with how you’re going to help.

Rule 4: Don’t Be Frivolous

Customers like to hear their name because it means that you remember them. However, if you use it too much it will not only lose it’s meaning, but it will become very annoying and might damage your credibility. Using the customer’s name too often will lead them to think you’re more concerned about saying their name and building artificial rapport than resolving the problem they called about. Ultimately, the customer wants to be impressed by the resolution to their problem.

If you’re not sure whether or not your procedures are following this rule, pretend that you have to pay a $0.05 royalty every time you say the customer’s name.

TIP: Limit your use of the customer’s name to times when it’s essential to let the customer know you know who they are. It’s wise to use names when greeting the customer, when returning from hold, and at the end of a transaction. You can also use their name when referring to their transaction history, such as, “I see that you’ve been our customer for a long time. Thank you for your business, Andrew!”

Rule 5: Using Names Does Not Fix Bad Service

Using a customer’s name is a method of service personalization. It does nothing to resolve the customer’s business needs, and it generally does little to address the customer’s psychological needs. Using the customer’s name will not make their experience any better if it’s bad. It can only strengthen good relationships and experiences.

The takeaway is that you should not shove name use down the throats of your customer service representatives. They need to be technically and emotionally competent and capable before the use of the customer’s name will matter at all. Yes, using the customer’s name is easy, but it’s comparatively unimportant.


Andrew GilliamAndrew Gilliam is a passionate customer experience innovator and change agent. His vision: deliver Amazing Customer Service and Technical Support™. Learn more at andytg.com, follow @ndytg on Twitter, and connect on LinkedIn.

  1. […] you missed his first post, Rules for Using Your Customer’s Name, I implore you to give it a read. To learn more about Andrew’s background, please visit our newly […]

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