Why something simple like remembering a person’s name is a big deal

“Remember that a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.” — Dale Carnegie

When Steph Curry started out in the NBA, he signed an endorsement deal with Nike just like 75 percent of the rest of the league. Then at the end of the 2013 season his contract was up for renewal. As the story goes, Steph and his father, Dell, were in the negotiating room with Nike representatives. A Nike official started the meeting by calling Steph “Steph-on,” just like Steve Urkel’s alter ego on the hit 90s TV show Family Matters. Dell said he was surprised by the mispronunciation and even more surprised that Nike did not correct it.

If this wasn’t bad enough, the next PowerPoint slide had Kevin Durant’s name, not Steph’s. This was very clearly a slide from a former presentation. Dell’s comment: “I stopped paying attention after that.” This was the beginning of the end of the Nike relationship. By the way, these endorsement deals are worth millions to Nike and its competitors.

Is remembering someone’s name important in business? YES!!!

Early in my career, I will never forget meeting “James.” Right after we got together, I called him “Jim,” thinking the informal was more personal. Not so much. He immediately responded that James was his name. OOPS! I never made that mistake again.

Just to add weight to this point, here is an even stronger example. A number of years ago, a colleague of mine in St. Louis had just put the finishing touches on a significant training proposal (six figures) with a large organization. He was wired into the company with a very good, long-standing relationship with the vice president of human resources. After presenting the proposal, he did not hear back from his contact in the time that he expected. When he finally caught up, he was told that the decision-making committee had decided to go with another vendor. He was shocked and disappointed. Why did this almost sure thing unravel? As it turned out, he had misspelled the name of the vice president throughout the proposal. The “nail in the coffin” was summarized by this comment: “If this individual from Dale Carnegie Training misses out on an obvious detail like the right spelling of a name, we have more concerns with other details.” Wow!

It truly is the little things that count. Early in my work life, I had the good fortune to work with a family-owned company called Hoffman House Restaurants. Every year each restaurant closed for one night in January for the annual employee Christmas party. The reason it was in January is that we were taking care of everyone else’s parties during the month of December.

I will never forget the first year I was the manager of the restaurant in Janesville and I received a call from Cy Hoffman about a week before our Christmas party. He must have spent at least a half hour on the phone with me getting caught up with what was going on in the personal lives of many of my employees, always making sure that he had the right pronunciation for names. I wondered at the time why this busy guy was so interested in their lives — names, spouses, kids, pets, etc.

Anyway, the night of the party I watched him work the room. He would go up to people he only saw once or twice a year and start talking to them about their lives. Did that ever get noticed by the people! Here he was, a major owner of our organization, connecting with cooks, food servers, the maintenance staff, and everyone else. They not only appreciated his interest, they all commented on it, as well. This was one of those great management lessons that I had the opportunity to learn from a master.

Finally, many of you have probably been in O’Hare International Airport in Chicago. It is busy and noisy with thousands of people moving through the various concourses. I have an acquaintance who was actually paged at O’Hare. Through all that busy-ness and noise, when he heard his name, it was like a laser beam!

If it wasn’t already obvious, remembering someone’s name and using it is just another way of showing you really are interested in the other person. Yes, remembering and using names is a pretty big deal!

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