Sticks and Stones?

Jan. 1, 2020
Being in business for as long as I have has provided me with a great deal of understanding about an array of topics, including the human psyche.

Being in business for as long as I have has provided me with a great deal of understanding about an array of topics, including the human psyche, as well as a surprising amount of trivial observations regarding general customer relations. After many, many years of radio and TV advertising, print ads and wide-ranging sponsorships of everything from T-Ball teams to beauty pageants, a lot of people know my name and who I am. So much so that a trip to the local grocery store to purchase a simple gallon of milk can be likened to a political “stump” meeting where everyone seems to know me but I seem to only vaguely recognize a select few of them. Sure, I know a few of their names. But like most of you reading this, the sheer amount of people’s names, surnames or nicknames that I have rollin' around in my head is bewildering, especially when I must recall the correct one at a moment’s notice during command performances of face/name recognition.

As perplexing as this may be for me, I have devised a simple method for dealing with these situations. I simply refer to most of the familiar but unknown customers with the appropriate, endearing pseudonym. I have an endless array of names that I draw from, such as Bubba, Slim, Chief, Captain, Stranger, Sir and Ma’am, when a customer walks in, speaks to me by name and requires me to respond in like fashion. It sometimes requires a bit of tactical maneuvering, especially when booking an appointment for the service department. I might ask, “How do you spell your last name?” and am sometimes embarrassed when my customer rolls his or her eyes at me and says “J - O - N - E -S!” It's not just our industry that has an issue with people’s names. This is where my story begins.

I recently had the privilege of renewing my driver’s license. Any visit I have ever made to our local DMV has been fraught with peril, disappointment and/or drama. Going to the DMV is like going to a county fair. As I looked around the room filled with people that I can only describe as distraught, forlorn hillbillies, I chuckled to myself as the DMV staff dispatched most of them without incident. Some, however, looked like they had been camping out  for several weeks. Considering myself a DMV veteran—one who possesses the knowledge that your paperwork must be in order, and my paperwork was perfect—I couldn't wait to see the look on all of those folks’ faces when I breezed through the process whilst they wrestled with tax receipts, proof of residency forms, passports, voter registration cards and improperly filled out or incomplete documents. I stood waiting in line with an elitist, smug grin on my face as I falsely assumed that I had the DMV totally figured out. In a word—no.

When it was my turn at the counter, I quipped to the lady waiting on me that it “sure is busy today.” She took my paperwork and with no emotion replied, “It's this way every day; nothing unusual.” One of my goals when I visit the DMV is to see if I can garner at least a smile or a twinkle of the eye from one of the employees.  I have yet to achieve this lofty goal, but it seems to be a lot of fun regardless of the pointlessness of my actions. As the lady clicked on the keyboard, she did everything she could to avoid eye contact. She then paused, placed a finger on pursed lips and abruptly turned, walked behind a glass-enclosed office, made a few phone calls and after 10 minutes, returned to my station. Again she clicked away at the keyboard and then received a phone call. Ten more minutes passed, and on her return, she bluntly asked me when was the last time I had been to Illinois.
 
"Excuse me?" was my reply. As she asked the question again, my mind began to race, and my baffled response was nine or 10 years ago, which I followed with my own question of “what's the problem?” In the same monotone voice she told me there was a problem with my renewal and asked me to have a seat while she went about sorting this thing out. Sheepishly, I walked away from the counter trying not to draw too much attention to myself, found a chair and began the wait.

Even before I sat down, I could feel all the eyes in the room on me as people began whispering to each other, and some even pointed in my direction. It was then that I realized my dilemma was the drama for the day. After about five minutes, the attendant summoned me back to the counter and asked if I had a copy of my birth certificate, which, being a veteran DMV goer, I immediately produced. She told me again to be seated.  As I sat in the most diminutive position I could muster, I mulled over my last trip through Illinois. I don't recall speeding, at least not an excessive amount. I didn't run any stop signs, traffic lights or otherwise drive in a reckless manner. No accidents, road rage or aggressive driving.  I simply couldn’t fathom what the problem was.

PAGE 2

During my 45 minutes of pondering, I barley noticed a deputy sheriff walking in, but I became fully aware of the severity of my situation as the attendant pointed at me when the police officer spoke to her. The deputy puffed up his chest, adjusted his gun belt, strolled over to me and asked me my name. “Barney Fife,” I thought to myself. I told him my name, and he responded that there was a situation and that he would be staying with me until the problem was resolved. When I asked what the “situation” was, he said he couldn't tell me, but that I shouldn't worry. Well, not only was I worried, I was fascinated by the sudden mobilization of the DMV staff and local police force in regard to my situation. Comforted by knowing that this must all be some sort of mistake, a laugh escaped me as I began to ponder if the DMV security cameras were filming the spectacle, because if so, this would probably make a highlight reel or at the very least a training tape.

The officer and I made small talk as we witnessed the joy and disappointment of the people coming in and going out when he suddenly said, “Hey!  I know you—you're the guy on TV doing the commercials for the auto parts store and service center! Boy-oh-boy, this is something, ain't it?”  The room erupted in what I can only describe as rabble, rabble and rabble.  Oh well, even bad press is “good” press, I guess. Just then, the attendant came back to the counter and summoned the officer, at which point they both erupted in laughter. The officer crumpled up a piece of paper she had given him—a fax, I assumed—and discarded it in the trash. Shaking his head and still laughing, he told me I was free to go about my business. Not so fast Mr. Po Po—I need an explanation.

Well, it seems that there was an individual in Illinois who had two arrest warrants and was wanted for questioning regarding an armed robbery who just so happened to have my exact name, birth date and social security number, save for one digit. The officer was still giggling as he further explained that if I did not have my birth certificate, I might have actually been detained. At this point, I was a little angry about what was so funny, because that individual obviously was not me, and I had about four hours invested in getting my new driver’s license. So back inside I went, got back in line and waited again. The same attendant took my paperwork, processed it, gave me a photo ID voucher, looked me in the eye and told me that I was Caucasian—the other individual in question was not—and that was all she could officially say. Then she actually smiled a very broad, big-toothed smile. Takes a lot, I guess.

While knowing people’s names in our line of work makes interacting much more personable, actually knowing who they are and what they need makes for a good customer relationship. So if I call you Bubba instead of your real name it does not mean I don't know you. It just means that I forgot your name. My DMV had every piece of information about me that I possessed, and it still almost resulted in jail time. Just knowing your customer’s name is not enough. To give your customers a pleasant experience while shopping at your store, it's more important to listen to what they want, expect or desire. I'm just waiting to see what my local DMV will do to top my last visit, but at least they'll know my name.

Being in business for as long as I have has provided me with a great deal of understanding about an array of topics, including the human psyche, as well as a surprising amount of trivial observations regarding general customer relations. After many, many years of radio and TV advertising, print ads and wide-ranging sponsorships of everything from T-Ball teams to beauty pageants, a lot of people know my name and who I am. So much so that a trip to the local grocery store to purchase a simple gallon of milk can be likened to a political “stump” meeting where everyone seems to know me but I seem to only vaguely recognize a select few of them. Sure, I know a few of their names. But like most of you reading this, the sheer amount of people’s names, surnames or nicknames that I have rollin' around in my head is bewildering, especially when I must recall the correct one at a moment’s notice during command performances of face/name recognition.

As perplexing as this may be for me, I have devised a simple method for dealing with these situations. I simply refer to most of the familiar but unknown customers with the appropriate, endearing pseudonym. I have an endless array of names that I draw from, such as Bubba, Slim, Chief, Captain, Stranger, Sir and Ma’am, when a customer walks in, speaks to me by name and requires me to respond in like fashion. It sometimes requires a bit of tactical maneuvering, especially when booking an appointment for the service department. I might ask, “How do you spell your last name?” and am sometimes embarrassed when my customer rolls his or her eyes at me and says “J - O - N - E -S!” It's not just our industry that has an issue with people’s names. This is where my story begins.

I recently had the privilege of renewing my driver’s license. Any visit I have ever made to our local DMV has been fraught with peril, disappointment and/or drama. Going to the DMV is like going to a county fair. As I looked around the room filled with people that I can only describe as distraught, forlorn hillbillies, I chuckled to myself as the DMV staff dispatched most of them without incident. Some, however, looked like they had been camping out  for several weeks. Considering myself a DMV veteran—one who possesses the knowledge that your paperwork must be in order, and my paperwork was perfect—I couldn't wait to see the look on all of those folks’ faces when I breezed through the process whilst they wrestled with tax receipts, proof of residency forms, passports, voter registration cards and improperly filled out or incomplete documents. I stood waiting in line with an elitist, smug grin on my face as I falsely assumed that I had the DMV totally figured out. In a word—no.

When it was my turn at the counter, I quipped to the lady waiting on me that it “sure is busy today.” She took my paperwork and with no emotion replied, “It's this way every day; nothing unusual.” One of my goals when I visit the DMV is to see if I can garner at least a smile or a twinkle of the eye from one of the employees.  I have yet to achieve this lofty goal, but it seems to be a lot of fun regardless of the pointlessness of my actions. As the lady clicked on the keyboard, she did everything she could to avoid eye contact. She then paused, placed a finger on pursed lips and abruptly turned, walked behind a glass-enclosed office, made a few phone calls and after 10 minutes, returned to my station. Again she clicked away at the keyboard and then received a phone call. Ten more minutes passed, and on her return, she bluntly asked me when was the last time I had been to Illinois.
 
"Excuse me?" was my reply. As she asked the question again, my mind began to race, and my baffled response was nine or 10 years ago, which I followed with my own question of “what's the problem?” In the same monotone voice she told me there was a problem with my renewal and asked me to have a seat while she went about sorting this thing out. Sheepishly, I walked away from the counter trying not to draw too much attention to myself, found a chair and began the wait.

Even before I sat down, I could feel all the eyes in the room on me as people began whispering to each other, and some even pointed in my direction. It was then that I realized my dilemma was the drama for the day. After about five minutes, the attendant summoned me back to the counter and asked if I had a copy of my birth certificate, which, being a veteran DMV goer, I immediately produced. She told me again to be seated.  As I sat in the most diminutive position I could muster, I mulled over my last trip through Illinois. I don't recall speeding, at least not an excessive amount. I didn't run any stop signs, traffic lights or otherwise drive in a reckless manner. No accidents, road rage or aggressive driving.  I simply couldn’t fathom what the problem was.

PAGE 2

During my 45 minutes of pondering, I barley noticed a deputy sheriff walking in, but I became fully aware of the severity of my situation as the attendant pointed at me when the police officer spoke to her. The deputy puffed up his chest, adjusted his gun belt, strolled over to me and asked me my name. “Barney Fife,” I thought to myself. I told him my name, and he responded that there was a situation and that he would be staying with me until the problem was resolved. When I asked what the “situation” was, he said he couldn't tell me, but that I shouldn't worry. Well, not only was I worried, I was fascinated by the sudden mobilization of the DMV staff and local police force in regard to my situation. Comforted by knowing that this must all be some sort of mistake, a laugh escaped me as I began to ponder if the DMV security cameras were filming the spectacle, because if so, this would probably make a highlight reel or at the very least a training tape.

The officer and I made small talk as we witnessed the joy and disappointment of the people coming in and going out when he suddenly said, “Hey!  I know you—you're the guy on TV doing the commercials for the auto parts store and service center! Boy-oh-boy, this is something, ain't it?”  The room erupted in what I can only describe as rabble, rabble and rabble.  Oh well, even bad press is “good” press, I guess. Just then, the attendant came back to the counter and summoned the officer, at which point they both erupted in laughter. The officer crumpled up a piece of paper she had given him—a fax, I assumed—and discarded it in the trash. Shaking his head and still laughing, he told me I was free to go about my business. Not so fast Mr. Po Po—I need an explanation.

Well, it seems that there was an individual in Illinois who had two arrest warrants and was wanted for questioning regarding an armed robbery who just so happened to have my exact name, birth date and social security number, save for one digit. The officer was still giggling as he further explained that if I did not have my birth certificate, I might have actually been detained. At this point, I was a little angry about what was so funny, because that individual obviously was not me, and I had about four hours invested in getting my new driver’s license. So back inside I went, got back in line and waited again. The same attendant took my paperwork, processed it, gave me a photo ID voucher, looked me in the eye and told me that I was Caucasian—the other individual in question was not—and that was all she could officially say. Then she actually smiled a very broad, big-toothed smile. Takes a lot, I guess.

While knowing people’s names in our line of work makes interacting much more personable, actually knowing who they are and what they need makes for a good customer relationship. So if I call you Bubba instead of your real name it does not mean I don't know you. It just means that I forgot your name. My DMV had every piece of information about me that I possessed, and it still almost resulted in jail time. Just knowing your customer’s name is not enough. To give your customers a pleasant experience while shopping at your store, it's more important to listen to what they want, expect or desire. I'm just waiting to see what my local DMV will do to top my last visit, but at least they'll know my name.