– Benoit !
– What ?
That STARBUCKS waiter in Madrid (Spain) suddenly looked at me dumbfounded… Suddenly, he turns to his colleague, and as if he has just seen the light, spurts out:
– “ah, of course! like the painter: Renoir.”
After a couple of minutes, the barrista calls me. As he tries to read my name, he frowns and stammers:
– “Re… Re…”
– “Yes, that’s me. Thanks.”
And he hands me my coffee cup with a third spelling.

STARBUCKS has actually understood the importance of the name. Asking customer’s name (even in Germany 😉 is a non-negotiable standard; the only issue is that Starbucks has not considered necessary to stimulate the staff to spell and pronounce properly.

We’ve just missed an opportunity to share a nice moment. Not a big deal, right? Well, I would question, however, why a chain that has established the non-negotiable standard of asking their customers’ names and writing them on the cups, does not consider it worthwhile to take care of the correct spelling and pronunciation. Retail is detail. If you do it, do it well.

A smart and talented manager in the US recently sent me an exquisite note between the 2 sessions of a training via Zoom, she was part of, with 2 links with the proper pronunciation of her name: Rashell, and not Rachel.
“I would like to ask for a commitment from you for the next meeting we have. I hope you can master it 😊 https://www.howtopronounce.com/rashell“
I loved this note as it reveals a nice assertivity requesting the proper pronunciation.

Names are the basis for RECOGNITION

Re-cognition, Re-Connaissance, Re-Conocimiento, Ri-conoscimento.
In social relationships, in business and particularly in retail, those of us who have lived in different countries know the special importance of this “detail”. For example, I have often seen in Retail chain in France where a third of the staff are of North African origin, or in Spain with Latin American or in the US with the melting pot (Asia, middle east, eastern Europe). In a company, everybody deserves to have their name written and pronounced correctly.

The number of names exploded in the last 50 years. In France, for instance, from 2.000 in the 60’s to more than 13.000 today, (according to Jérome Fourquet) following a diversification in culture and origin. In business, in retail, in social life, the respect of that diversity is probably a factor of sustainable growth for the organization.

We have accompanied during 1 year a well-reknown retail chain whose workforce is composed of more than 80 nationalities. We invited the middle management to define the proper attitudes to manage and motivate staff. Some managers initially told us: “we know the name only of those who arrive late in the morning!”. One of the first points they finally included in their resolution act was: “Say hello individually with the name; if you don’t know the name, read it on the badge!”

Proper pronunciation may even become a differentiator.

I remember a certain Monday morning. It was 9 am, I was 24 and had just arrived at the offices of my new employer, an American multinational in Chile. I had a mixture of first-day nerves and a real wish to give it my very best. I did a tour of the office along with the head of HR so that she could introduce me to all my new colleagues. We came to the office of a man who didn’t look Chilean. He turned out to be an expat from India. He politely asked the head of HR in English if he could have a couple of minutes alone with me.

– “Sit down, please,” he said with a big smile.
I sat. I realized he had something specific he wanted to say. He looked at me in the eyes and asked his big question.
– “Can you write your name for me, please?” He passed me a pen.
– “Benoit.” I spelled it for him – B-E-N-O-I-T.
– “And how do you pronounce it?”

I tried to transmit the subtleties of French pronunciation for him: out of six letters of Benoit, only one was pronounced the same in French as in English or Spanish; we have diphthongs and the ‘e’ was pronounced somewhat strangely. My new colleague set to pronouncing my first name and surname again and again. After four or five minutes of role plays, he was able to pronounce and write my full name correctly. He thanked me effusively, stretched out his hand to me, and said:
– “Welcome to this great Company, Benoit” with perfect pronunciation.
I thanked him and asked:
– “By the way, what’s your name?”
He gave me a smile of complicity and wrote on the same piece of paper: “Jewahar” and could explain to me the Indian accent. On the following morning, Tuesday, we both said “good morning” with the proper name pronunciation. My parents didn’t know when I was born I would live in different countries and environments. And they put me a nice French name… that doesn’t travel that well 😉

As a manager, can you pronounce the name of each person of your team, N-1 and N-2?

Managers are not always that considered. The following case occurred in a pub in a Spanish touristic major airport. The day before I’d had a training course with the managers of 13 restaurants and bars, including this particular one. The manager, a man named Salvador, had joined me for his coaching session. He greeted me:
– “Good morning, welcome. I really enjoyed yesterday’s course. I have a colleague here, she’s French, like you. Her name is Amélie, but we all call her… Céline.”
– “Why do you call her Céline if her name is Amélie?” I replied.
– “well, because at her job interview, I saw on her Identity card that her second name was Céline… and I love the singer Céline Dion!”
– “You know that in France we don’t usually use our second names except for administrative purposes? Does she like you calling her Céline?”
– “She doesn’t! In fact, she’s always asked us to call her Amélie, but it seemed fun and now even head office calls her Céline.”

At this first session, Salvador became more aware of the issue at stake and we agreed that at his first Retail Coaching session with Amélie Céline, he should ask her what she wants to be called, and, if necessary, he should prepare a productive apology. At our second session, the first thing that Salvador told me was how grateful Amélie was when he agreed to call her by her first name, and sent a memo to everyone – including head office – that they should do likewise. As it happens, Amélie’s UPT that month recorded a significant increase.

Nicknames or full names: “How do you want us to call you?” and “What name do you want us to put on your badge?”

We should also be aware that the familiar forms of names (Pete, Annie etc) and nicknames may not always be appreciated. It is always worth asking a new employee.
In the middle of a conference interaction on customer experience and clienteling, with 500 employees, a participant took the microphone and said: “I hate the name of my badge. My name is Roderick. I don’t like my name, that’s why people call me Rod.” I then asked the HR director present in this convention if she could change Rod’s badge. She agreed, stood up, and asked if more people would like to change: 56 persons raised their hands, more than 10%. I can’t think of any better consideration that can be shown to the people we work with!
Same way for Nick name. An manager was called Manuel and everyone would be calling him “Manolo”. In coaching session, we were working on self-esteem; and Manuel decided he would suggest to be called Manuel, to regain authority in some groups.

And the names in digital ?

In digital relationship, through Zoom or Teams, this care for identity and name is even more crucial! For instance, the training session start with an invitation to edit the name individually, or the way you wish to be called.

As we, human beings, still have the privileged to engage relationship in 5 senses, including hearing (which Amazon cannot…so far!), let’s make sure we pronounce and write properly the names.


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