Member since yesterday

So there's this little thing that I've noticed a lot of retailers doing. They give their people dated nametags. Instead of just saying the person's name, they now say something like, "Team member since 2004."

Tamika at FedEx Kinko's was kind enough to let me take a picture of her nametag. But like Tamika, so many nametags I see say "Member since 2006." Last year, they all said 2005. Point being: when the person started this year, I think the nametag works against the store's favor.

Now maybe a new employee, upon receiving their "Member since 2006" nametag in April, thinks "Gosh, only 8 more months until I appear to have been here a year!" Maybe a new employee who arrives in December thinks "Sweet. I will have seniority so soon."

But whatever positive or negative effect this program has on morale, I don't suspect it's improved employee retention. Sure, all stores want their workers to commit. The costs to train new staff are high. But I doubt the nametags have improved motivation or loyalty - those issues run deeper than nametags.

So why else would a store make dated nametags? Maybe because, in theory, when someone's been there for a few years, we treat them with more respect. I mean, who doesn't love the old man with "Elmer. Member since 1962."

But from a shopper's perspective, we rarely run into Elmer at the local Jewel. And it looks really bad when every single employee is a member since 2006! It's like revealing their weaknesses! Putting "Untrained and inexperienced" signs on their backs! Putting "Nobody likes to work here" on their registers! Putting "This place is a revolving door" on their revolving doors!

Maybe if, instead of saying how long they've been here in years, they could say it in months. "Member since March 2005" is way more experienced than "Member since December 2005." Or they could make it future-facing: "My one-year anniversary is April 2007." Or they could tell us the employee's specialty in the store: "Tamika. Computers and printers." Or just something unique and human about them: "Tamika. My friends call me Mika." "Tamika. I'm also a volleyball instructor." "Tamika. Originally from Atlanta."

Retailers have tons of issues - hell, we all have tons of issues. But the issue of employee retention is, from what I hear, top of mind for some. These stores could start by finding ways to make their employees appear more human - through nametags, apparel, ways of showing off their strengths rather than their weaknesses. It takes a long time for a "Member since 2006" to feel important, and by that time, she's probably gone. Personalized gear could be the first step towards more human treatment from both shoppers and corporate. It could even become the tiny gesture that helps them decide not to quit.


George said...

"Hi I'm Tamika!
I still work here despite the low wages, the non existant health care and the zero chance of career advancement since all my co-workers and I are depised my middle management.
Ask me how to save 10% off your next visit!"

Steve Portigal said...

Didn't Weekend Update used to have a tagline (back in the Chevy-Chase-and-you're-not days) - something like Bringing you the news for over a 50th of a century?

Steve Portigal said...

Here are some interesting name tags - using "tagging" - from a recent conference. Why do retail name tags have to be fixed; why can't they be dynamic and evolving and user-generated?

Jessica said...

I actually noticed the other night when I was out to dinner at California Pizza Kitchen, the servers all had nametags with their name and where they're from. So my server's said "Jared" and below that was "Washington, DC." I thought this was kinda cool-It makes him seem like more of a real person than just a server. Plus, I'm sure it starts conversation with his tables.

Elliott said...

I hate nametags. I'm glad I never had to wear one. I'd rather be called 'Excuse me, Miss' by someone who doesn't know me.

Anonymous said...

The nametags are not the secret to retention. The secret to retention is stuff like "not cutting benefits" (big Kinko's problem esp since the FedEx takeover), "promoting from within" (instead of hiring managers with no previous copy center experience), "paying decent wages," "not understaffing stores," etc.

I don't think many employees would actually appreciate it if a given company started making them put personal tidbits on their nametags; in general, most people who have to wear nametags resent it, and resent customers who make a big point of calling them by their names. Figuring out how to actively sabotage your nametag without getting into trouble is a retail sport. The customers who use the names are unfortunately 90% of potential-stalker variety. Rarely is the nametag ever used as the basis for a letter to the store about the amazing customer service someone has had.

I didn't love my time as an employee of Half Price Books (way overworked! way way underpaid! jerky management on the store and district levels!), but I appreciated that HPB employees do not have to wear nametags (and have no strict dress code, either). They wear necklaces with metal badges that identify them as HPB employees, but they don't have to put their names on them. The only problem with that is that some customers can't figure out who is and is not an employee.

sara said...

I was in FedEx Kinko's today, and Mikey had made his own nametag. It said "Team member since 1873."

He's getting away with it, probably because people aren't actually reading it. I thought it was pretty funny.

Thanks for your comments, anonymous.

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