If You Got Rid Of Employee Name Badges -- Would Your Customer Service Improve?

Apr 15 2014, 6:21pm CDT | by

Let me ask you a question so inappropriate it may land me on Customer Service Speaker Credibility Watch due to sheer sacrilege.

“Do employee name badges actually improve customer service?”

“Of course they do,” you, hypothetical reader, snap back.

I would counter with (and here’s the sacrilege): “Actually, it depends.”

For the vast majority of those businesses that serve customers face to face, name badges probably do help. The reasons to favor employee name badges are pretty obvious.

Ease (for the customer) of starting a conversation

Clarity when reporting issues/problem solving/troubleshooting for both customers and managers. (Last week, a name badged front desk employee misplaced a package I had entrusted to him;  recalling the name I had seen on his badge helped me help the manager track it down.)

Symmetry: Employees now, often know the names of even first-time customers: from their loyalty cards, credit cards, boarding passes.  Why shouldn’t customers, in this environment, know employee names as well?

Credit where credit’s due: It’s easier to tweet about good service if you can say “Dave put a great swirl on my latte” than “The balding guy with the hipster facial hair put a great swirl on my latte”

 • Deterrence and Accountability: Wouldn’t you be less likely to flip off (proverbially or literally) a customer if you had a name badge on? Name badges are the service equivalent of that awesome “Did Not Wash Hands” light and buzzer above the restroom exit in the Far Side cartoon.  They provide deterrence and instant accountability.

For all these reasons, a healthy swath of service providers (including, most recently, Starbucks) have made the decision to put name badges or other identifiers on their employees.

On the other hand, these extremely smart people say you’re wrong
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In spite of all these obvious reasons to favor name badges,  it might surprise you that some of the very finest, attuned-to-nuance customer service providers are going in the other direction, doing away with name badges altogether.

For example, you’ll find 100% name badge-free zones in the following fabulous customer-friendly environments

Andaz, the unusual five star boutique lodging venture that is a very big deal for Hyatt

Edition Hotels, the new five star venture that’s a partnership between Marriott and hotelier Ian Schrager

Capella and Solis, the new ultra-luxury creations of Horst Schulze” (previously best known as the genius behind Ritz-Carlton)

This, then, is quite a division of opinion and practice. So what gives?

Here’s what Sara Kearney, Hyatt’s Senior Vice President for Brands, says about their choice to not use name badges at their new Andaz five-star hotels.  “We’re trying to make you—the customer and also the employee— feel like you’re in more of a peer-to-peer relationship,” having less of a barrier between employee and guest.

For Andaz, in other words, removing the name badge is a visual cue, a barrier removal effort akin to the removal of the high wall-like counters that used to dominate a hotel’s lobby decor.

Tim Miller, a hotelier who was intimately involved in the creation of the new Marriott—Ian Schrager Edition brand, echoes this sentiment.

“[Edition employees] don’t wear name tags because we want it to be similar to when you’re at home and a friend stops by and stays with you for a couple of nights. We want to provide service in a less artificial way than would be implied by the dividing line of name badged employees” and civilian-dressed guests.

Miller does, however, sound a cautionary note. “We do couple this with advice to our teams that we don’t want them to be too familiar.  There’s a difference between being friendly and being familiar.  We are there to make our guests’ stay delightful.  It’s not about sort of crossing the familiar line.”

“I’m Jayden R., and I’ll be taking care of you”

When delivering a speedy, approximate style service (think the expected level of service at your corner gas station, or an Applebee’s/Bennigan’s/TGIF ultra high-volume-but-smiley establishment: “I’m Jayden R., and I’ll be taking care of you”) name badges are on the whole a positive, for the reasons I’ve bulleted above. They promote easy, superficial conversations between customers and employees, and they certainly promote accountability for the employees.

But they’re really not the sign of the ultimate in service, any more than scripted encounters are. While name badges make trivial interactions easy, they kind of put a cap on the level of intimacy that a customer is likely to achieve with an employee or the brand that employee represents.  If you’re handed the employee’s first name with no effort on your part as a customer, you can converse with them with zero effort, but you probably won’t get any further than that zero-effort conversation.

And there’s no question that an environment adorned with name badge employees looks more stilted, artificial, less genuine than without it.    Hotelier Tim Miller again: “We didn’t want the stilted awkwardness of ‘look, I work here, I’m taking care of you because that’s what it says on my badge I do.’”/>/>

 Employees (understandably) hate name badges
I guess I don’t have to mention the elephant in the room: Employees hate name badges. And the more creative, quirky the employee, the more likely they are to hate them.  As the newest generation of employees are millennials, a very, very creative and quirky generation, and it’s best not to start an adversarial relationship with your employee at the word “go,”  this is another factor to consider./>

Case by case by case
Here’s where I come down on this:  I am of two minds on the name tag issue.  Or, more accurately, I take it on a case by case basis with my customer service consulting clients.  It’s worth looking at it both ways, and taking it beyond the knee-jerk reaction you may have, because it is one quite visible way you can alter perceptions of your service to seem more genuine./>

And “genuine” matters a lot to today’s customers.

Micah Solomon is a customer experience consultant, customer service speaker and author.
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