What is your name?

Dear Mr. van de Biezen. All newsletters start this way. Detached as well as safe and easy. Wouldn't I rather be called by my first name? As a designer it is hard to answer this question. Everyone prefers something else. It differs per personality and even per situation. Nevertheless, online services decide it for you, as a customer, without leaving you any choice. They dictate how you should be called.

When you order a product, they ask you to write down your given name and family name separately. Impersonal and it is even annoying to have to fill in your name in separate fields. It is far more effective (goal orientated) and efficient (quicker) to write down your full name in one single input field, and to write down your nickname in an additional and optional field.

Easier said than done. Many online services don't even want to do this. Maybe because their database is already structured so that first and last name is separate. Their newsletters system requires a separate last name. Or they simply don't see use for it. Sometimes they even find it strange, because nobody does it like that. And that is a problem. You should take your customers seriously.

It reminds me of a story from my father. The CEO of a Dutch bank, the ING, always uses his title Drs. (similar to MSc) before his name. As a customer, there was no way to indicate that you wanted, for example, Ir. (also similar to MSc) before your name. As a CEO you are allowed be proud of your background, but not as the customer. Making your company more important than your customers, is extremely arrogant. My father solved it by adding Ir. to his last name. Although as a result it took more time to switch to another bank.

One of our clients, Hop for Her, embraced the optional nickname and gave me access to their data. I am allowed to share the results with you.

Hop for Her is for women in menopause

Hop for Her is based on hop and relieves menopausal symptoms because hop mimics estrogen. The target group consists of women between 40 and 55 years. Customers come from all over the Netherlands and Belgium. On the website, customers can order a starting dose for €15. If it works for them, then they can opt for automatic delivery.

How does Hop for Her ask for your name?

The way the website requests your nickname will of course affects its use. That is why I first walk you through everything that could influence the data.

For the initial dose the checkout asks for a full name to put on the shipping label and for an optional nickname for other communication. The nickname is labeled How would you like to be called? (optional) and a helper text below the input field contains: For example, Suzanne wants to be called Suus. We use an example, because a nickname is not yet often asked in a checkout.

If the customer chooses to leave the input field blank, the system addresses her by her full name. This can be change later on. The 'my account' welcomes the customer with their nickname and gives the option to change it.

Once the customer uses the autofill functionality from the web browser during the checkout, the web browser will enter the first name. We use the autocomplete attribute for this. Although this may affect the results, in a large sample from HotJar we didn't see people use autofill at all. Additionally, many web browsers will only autofill the required fields, not the optional field for nickname. I can say that the implementation of autofill has no noticeable impact on the results.

68% of customers would like to be called by their first name

Interestingly, only 1.3% of the customers choose their last name as a nickname.

The service addresses 29.7% of the customers with their full name, so Dear Bart van de Biezen. This is not a conscious choice. It is mainly because they simply left the nickname blank. Of course there are customers who entered their full name in the nickname field.

Most remarkable is that as many as 67.8% of the customers indicate that they want to be addressed by their first name. From these 67.8%, 6% (4.4% of total) choose for an alternative first name, such as a shortened version, for their nickname. It is striking to see that so many users want to be called by their first name, while most online services do not facilitate it.

The remaining 1.2% of the customers want be addressed with their initials or with a generic salutation such as Dear Mrs.

What is your name?

It is clear the nickname option works. The vast majority of users fill in the optional field and want to be called by their first name. All newsletters that I know call me by my last name. A safe choice, but apparently something not preferred by a lot of customers. Obviously, for each service things are different, however it does not change the fact that you as a designer, developer, or product owner should not decide. Consider the communication with your customer a serious matter. Ask them and let them choose how they would like to be called.

Bart van de Biezen

Bart van de Biezen

As a cognitive ergonomist at Aan Zee Communications, I do research, design, speak and write about user interfaces and usability. My background: Industrial Design and Psychology at the University of Twente, graduated at Philips in midair pointing for the next generation TV's, Apple Design Award for CSSEdit, usability researcher at MetrixLab and blogger.