Hey, How Are You?

Josie Leavitt - October 28, 2011

It’s happened to me more than I care to admit. A lovely customer comes in and says, “Hi, Josie!” And I look at him or her and I have no earthly clue who they are. I know that I know who they are. I’ve seen them a bazillion times in the store and around town, but for whatever reason on this particular occasion, I cannot recall their name. And it’s clear I should know them, and to ask them what their name is would be insulting. So I respond with a hearty, “Hey, how are you?”
So, what’s a bookseller to do? Well, if you’re me, you wait, patiently, and hope the conversation will trigger some glimmer of memory for what their name is. Secretly, I hope a spouse or child will come in and then the much needed light bulb will go off.  This doesn’t happen as often as it could. Usually, I find myself grasping at straws racking my brain all the while offering good book recommendations. Often times the customer has no real idea that I’m struggling so hard.
The real challenge comes with checkout and our Frequent Buyers Club, which is name-based. I am saved in this regard because 99% of our customers pay with check and credit cards, so I can discreetly add their name into their account to give them the right credit. Every day, I see dozens of people and while I like to think I know everyone who walks in my store, but realistically, my brain can only hold so many things. I try to make it a point to remember the children’s names. While there are days when I can’t remember names of frequent shoppers, there are also times, like last night, where I remember the name of a customer I haven’t seen in four years. What helps me the most is the staff who will often chime in their own happy greeting, thereby cuing me and relieving me of my agony.
Memory is a funny thing. It’s usually there when I need it, but when it fails me, it does so in grand fashion. I’m curious how other booksellers deal with the inability to recall a good customer’s name.

9 thoughts on “Hey, How Are You?

  1. Carol B. Chittenden

    Hey, just wait til you’re 20 years older: more people know you, and your memory is slipperier than ever!

  2. Kat B

    This is why I call so many people by terms of endearment. Those I remember, and those whose names I’ve forgotten. Because then no-one can tell which is which, dear. 🙂

  3. Cynthia Compton

    Everyone in my life (children, husband, pets, UPS guy, customers) is “dear” or “honey.” Because I throw in random “bless your hearts” and “y’alls”, it works for me. I may be the only southern speaking Hoosier educated in Wisconsin, but so far no one thinks I’m forgetful – just friendly. Bless their hearts.

  4. Spellbound

    I also experience occasional panic during the frequent buyer look-up. We look up by last names, though, so I don’t usually mind saying, “Remind me how to spell your last name….” Of course, if it’s Smith, then I’m done for!
    I find it so much easier to learn and remember the kids’ names. The advantage with learning kid names is that, during any given bookstore visit, a parent will usually say the child’s name several times. Now, the child may call out to the parent several times, too, but that’s not as helpful. I don’t think my customers really want me calling them Mom or Dad.

  5. Kitti

    I would NOT expect a store owner to remember my name unless I had been a very frequent customer for at least a year!! I know you look at dozens, if not hundreds, of faces every day.

  6. Barbara Alpert

    I find this happens to me a lot, but it’s usually because one of the many hundreds of volunteers I’ve supervised at the NYC Marathon or a tutoring program I oversaw. There is only one of me, so I’m easier to remember…than for me, with so many of them. It’s the same for you as a bookseller. Personally, I wish everyone wore name tags every day!

  7. penny

    At 72, I definitely have this problem and I do not think I will ever relax into it as much as I wish I could. I just look at the customer who I know perfectly well not to mention who their last mate was, where they work and what books they like, and say. “I am sorry but I have lost your name”. They almost always say oh no problem. What is really bad is when they say Susie, or Jim or some other first name.

  8. Becky Stutzman

    As a children’s librarian in a busy public library, I have the same problem with remembering names. It helps when the chld has a name like Eliana and not Elizabeth (with apologies to your colleague!)


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