Do people get your name wrong? Annoying, isn’t it? Whether you respond with weary resignation or outright rage, the reaction is never a positive one. It matters that people get our name correct. From name badges to email salutations, from parcel deliveries to customer information and personnel files, if your name is wrong, there are consequences! Not only is it discourteous and sloppy, it can be costly, too.
I travel around the country meeting people to discuss accuracy. (Or, more precisely, to explore how the cost of error is reduced when people develop their accuracy skills). There is inevitably a part of our conversation which turns to the subject of names and addresses. Give me a list of names and I’ll tell you the individuals who repeatedly experience the irritation of having their names used incorrectly. I can tell in advance who is going to be really ‘hot’ on the topic of getting people’s name right!
Recently, I met an HR Director called Camille. “I expect lots of people get your name wrong,” I said to her. “Oh, yes,” she said, “I’m always being called Camilla. I tell them I’m not royalty!”. Every meeting I attend, I can guarantee there is someone in the room who speaks with passion (borne of personal experience) about the problems of people getting their name wrong. I think my favourite comes from a meeting in Scotland several years ago, when I met Kevin Reith, who told me he wished his parents had named him Keith and been done with it! What made matters worse, I had fallen into the same trap the day before and had emailed him, beginning with the words, ‘Dear Keith’. I shall never forget that.
What does it say about your organisational culture?
I can’t help making assumptions about an organisation’s quality procedures when they can’t even be bothered to get my name correct for my visitor’s badge. A couple of years ago, on arrival at a major organisation in the education sector, I was given a badge to wear that had my first name and my company name spelled incorrectly and part of my last name omitted. It’s not unusual to find that the care with which your visitor’s name badge is prepared is symbolic of the overall company culture.
Let’s look at some of the key reasons for getting people’s names wrong:
Contrary to what you might think, ‘easy’ names are wrong more often than ‘difficult’ names. It’s when people think they ‘know’ how to spell a name and don’t check, that things can go wrong. A good example here are names like Brown and Browne or Nicky and Nikki. Sometimes, people just don’t know how to spell and a name like ‘Murray’ can be recorded as ‘Murrey’ or even ‘Murry’. Murray of course can be a first name or a last name so people need to be on their mettle! Paying careful attention to detail with people’s names is always important, and especially in customer services. A poorly spelled name creates a terrible impression and just looks sloppy.
Overall shape of your name
My name is Catherine. An extraordinary number of people email me with the salutation ‘Dear Christine,’ or ‘Dear Caroline’. Why is that? The brain is very good at making assumptions about what the eye is seeing - it literally makes sense out of nonsense when, for example, we read words which have their consonants all jumbled up. So yuo cna raed thsi easliy even thuogh the wrods aer spelled incorreltly. My name begins with a capital ‘C’ and ends in ‘e’ and has nine letters in it. So does Christine. And Caroline has just one letter less. It’s a short leap from Catherine to Christine or Caroline. Sometimes people even call me by the wrong name, even to my face.
Association and familiarity
If you’ve just written to, or spoken with, another person it’s easy to just repeat their name in your next email, especially if the two names are similar or have some kind of association. Or maybe it’s a name that you use often (that of a colleague or family member) and you just automatically type the wrong name. One unforgettable Christmas I wrote (and printed several times!) ‘Away in a manager’ because I frequently type the word ‘manager’ and didn’t check my work carefully! The same over-familiarity with names can lead to error.
Variations and male/female
One of our Accuracy Consultants is called Carole. She will often tell people she is ‘Carole with an e’ before anything else! Another of our Accuracy Consultants is Lindsey, and her name can be spelled in an assortment of ways, including a male version. There are lots of examples of variations in the spelling and usage of names. It always pays to check. Never assume!
Repeated digits and characters can catch people off guard. In names, a common example is Philip and Phillip. But repeated characters can cause errors across the first and last names, too. Another of our Accuracy Consultants is Greg Fradd and a considerable number of his course participants get their trainer’s name wrong! The repeated ‘d’ in Greg’s last name becomes a repeated ‘g’ at the end of his first name, resulting in Gregg Frad. Greg just has one of those names that people tend to get wrong. He tells me, “I've had Craig, Geoff, Fred Gruff, Grilled Fried (on holiday in Turkey), Greog Fraod, Fraud, the list goes on.” A course participant even referred to him as ‘Frodo’ this week!
Until she was about seven, my daughter used to begin letters to her grandfather with the words, ‘Dear Grandad Brain’, which he rather liked, but wasn’t correct! Transposition errors are not the unique reserve of small children however, and it’s very easy for us to scramble the characters in a person’s name, thanks to the way our human eyes move across the letters. As with ‘the brain making sense out of nonsense’, it’s easy to fool ourselves into believing we have not made a mistake, when in fact we have.
The brain is also good at contracting two words to make one. The frequency with which my Scottish customer Kevin Reith is called ‘Keith’ is an excellent example of this. The initial ‘K’ is picked up and added to the final syllable contracting two words to make one name. Our brains find this almost irresistible, as I found to my cost.
Only a couple of weeks ago, another customer told me how her first and last names were reversed resulting in her application for childcare vouchers being delayed. A simple mistake like this can lead to huge amounts of extra bureaucracy as well as stress and frustration for all the parties concerned. Some systems require a last name/first name inputting format so extra care should be taken to ensure names are the right way around. This is particularly tricky when both the first and last names can be first names, such as Graham David or James Andrew.
How to get people’s names right
Here is a quick summary of some of the things you can do - of course there’s a lot more behind these ideas, so do get in touch if you’d like to learn more.
- Make sure your brain acknowledges each individual character in its correct position
- Say to yourself, ‘There’s a mistake here somewhere, and I’m going to find it’. Actively looking for a mistake raises the likelihood of you spotting it
- Look for obvious spelling mistakes such as transpositions or repeated letters (like Brian/Brain and Phillip and Philip)
- If the name has more than one version, check which one is correct for this individual. Don’t make assumptions!
- Check salutations in emails and letters - do they match the name of the person you are writing to? Is the spelling correct?
- When speaking with people, always ask them to clarify the spelling of their name if there is more than one version, or if you are not sure. Use the phonetic alphabet to spell out the name if you are speaking over the telephone and it’s difficult to hear clearly
- Be alert to the possibility of error - being ‘present-minded’ and aware of the pitfalls means preventing mistakes
- ‘Superconcentrate’ - extra levels of concentration are required to overcome natural barriers to accuracy such as the physical structure of the human eye and our human vulnerability to distraction. Short ergo breaks to ‘reset’ the brain and provide oxygen to the body are helpful.
Each month I publish a fun, seasonally themed accuracy test and you can subscribe to receive these free of charge at www.accuracyprogramme.co.uk
If you’d like to find out more, please come along to our next taster event - see here for details
Catherine de Salvo, Director, Scott Bradbury Ltd.
Tel: 01638 723590
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