As business owners, we’re always looking for one more way to differentiate us from our competition – one thing that can give us a small leg up.  How can we get customers to choose US vs. another option?  Sometimes the things that make all the difference aren’t big, grandiose things.

Your customer’s name is the most magical word they’ve ever heard.

I don’t mean when you get your coffee and they insert your name as part of their “customer experience process.”

“Latte for Gerry!”  Yeah, thanks.

When’s the last time you walked into a place of business and someone knew your name?  I had an amazing experience at a restaurant recently.  I was visiting my small hometown back in Wisconsin (Columbus).  In a nearby community, there is a new sushi restaurant that my parent’s like to frequent. Yes, sushi in rural Wisconsin – yes, it’s actually good food.  But the food isn’t what makes this place special.  It’s the servers.

When I went in with my Dad, one of the servers – Cindy, ran over and said “Hi Bob!”  She was genuinely excited to see him.  I was thinking that my parents must go there more than I thought.  Then my dad pointed out that Cindy regularly learns everyone’s name.  They had been in a couple of weeks earlier with a table of eight, and Cindy had learned everyone’s name by the end of the meal.  When she came over to take our order, Cindy asked about each and every person who had been at that table by name, and she even knew the relationships.  How is Holly?  She’s your niece, right Bob?  How about Pat, he’s married to Cheryl?  How are their kids?

Wow.  Really?

When I asked Cindy about it, she said “Yeah!  Bob’s MY customer.”  She felt such a deep relationship with her customers that she felt like they were her personal customers.  My parents rave about this place, and my mother doesn’t even like sushi!

Zheng-Bi-Duan-and-Gerry-OBrion-282x300As you can see from the picture, Cindy is Chinese.  Clearly, Cindy wasn’t her real name, so I asked her about her name.  It’s Zheng Bi Duan.  How interesting that a woman who dedicates her time to learning other’s names is not asking them to learn her real name because she wants to use something easier for her customers to remember.

I asked her if any of her customers call her by her Chinese name, and she lit up.  Yes, one or two of them do, and you could see how much it meant to her that they cared.  Even for Zheng Bi Duan, her name is magical.  I’d say especially for her.

What if your staff did nothing but learned your customers’ names?  Not just for a second, but for real?  I have no doubt that the next time I go to Sake House, Zheng Bi Duan will know my name, and I’ll certainly know hers.

Gerry O'Brion - Keynote Marketing & Branding Speaker


Gerry spent his career growing big brands such as Procter & Gamble, Coors Light, Quiznos, and Red Robin. Now, he translates strategies from billion dollar brands into techniques that any company can use, regardless of their budget.

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