I know we have all been told how important it is to remember someone’s name, especially when it comes to business. The correct spelling and pronunciation all help towards the customer thinking that we actually paid attention. This gives them a sense of importance. A strong human need that we all have.

People do mental training on how to remember people’s names. I have an example of a young man who works in the service industry who does this brilliantly. We first met about a year ago. He served my wife and I and as he was doing it he asked our names. I told him our names then he repeated them back to us. As he walked away I noticed he said our initials, “GJ”, his process of mentally remembering.

I noticed what he was doing and admired his willingness to make an effort to remember our names. We have been back regularly and every time he calls us by our names in that order. I made a comment to him about his process and I joked saying you should just call us G J. He laughed and has called us that ever since.

Now the importance of this is not so much his process on how he remembered (I only brought it up with him because I was aware and interested), the importance was the names. There is something unique and self-serving about hearing your own name.

The cocktail party effect

There is a psychological term that explains this phenomenon and how it is important to us individually. This is called the “Cocktail party effect” or the increase in interest when we hear important things like our own name. It’s like this, you’re at a party talking to someone and the rest of the crowd is just a murmur because you are only concentrating on your immediate conversation. Then in the distance, you hear your own name. All of a sudden your attention focuses outside of your conversation to find out who and why someone mentioned your name.

Although there is much more to Cocktail party effect, like the ability to block out other sounds and focus on another, regardless of what noise is surrounding you. We can say that this realignment of focus or change of attention is created by that innate sense of wanting to feel important. We can’t help it, it just happens.

So what happens when someone remembers your name? Your attention focuses on the person who said it.

On a marketing level, our challenge is to capture this cocktail effect in all of our conversations with our customers. For example, when we send mass emails we must personally address individuals no matter how massive the email send is. “Dear Peter” or “Mary” using “Dear valued customer” is not going to create this interest.

A perfect example of this cocktail effect making you stand out happened to me just the other day. I get takeaway from my favourite restaurant every Thursday and have done this for many years now. A year ago I introduced a friend to the restaurant and he started to do the same. Every time I go into the restaurant the owner comes up to me and shakes my hand and repeats my name. I for some unknown reason forget to call him by his name and just call him sir. My friend, on the other hand, told me that he always calls the owner by his name, as the first time he met him he wrote his name down so he could remember it.

So after years of saying hello to the owner, last Thursday I said to him that after all these years I have never gotten his name. He told me his name was Sankunna and I repeated it back to him as I shook his hand. To my amazement, he asked me am I still working with Rob (my friend who I introduced to him and always said his name).

So why did he associate my interest in his name with my friend Rob? I would suggest that he always did associate us together but never mentioned it. Now with me asking about his name, it triggered an association with the person who always said his name. Thus with Rob’s courtesy and effort, the man who I have known for a longer time is now associating my presence with the person who he had only known for a year.

No big deal you may say, but what if Rob and I were competing companies both vying for Sankunna’s business? I know who would get the sale and it wouldn’t be me.