I'm terrible with names. I wish I could install your cookie in my brain so every time I see you in public it recalls. I suppose that's one way that computers are more “intelligent” than humans. But, due to this glaring weakness of mine, I'm very impressed when others can so easily remember me after just one chance encounter. It's a skill. Do you know what doesn't impress me: when people fake it. This is all-too-common at my church, where everyone wears name tags. Of course, with 700 people attending, there's a lot of brief glances to my chest before re-gaining eye contact and saying, “Hi, Nick!” with a painted smile. I'm unimpressed.
Now, with the aforementioned limitations of the human mind, it's perfectly excusable that my fellow congregants don't remember my name. So what's not excusable? When a computer can't. Technology is far-too easy to employ for remembering people for websites to fail at it. Nonetheless, many still do. And, what's worse, is it's actually more frustrating when a website can't really remember me than when a person can't.
First, take everybody's favorite host (or, at least hosting commercials) GoDaddy. I'm a GoDaddy customer. I have been for years. And, how nice of them to remember my name when I visit. Every time I start a new session at GoDaddy.com, I'm greeted with “Welcome, Nicholas.” They even tell me that I have a few domains expiring, and offer some deals that (I assume) have been selected based on my buying behavior.
Good job… almost. It's true, they've remembered my name. But, they aren't treating me any differently as a result. I've actually written GoDaddy with this complaint: when I show up, you treat me like I'm not a customer. The navigation is all pre-sales content. If I want to get to my domains, my hosted sites, my account, etc, guess what I have to do: click the “not you” link and log in anew. Which, by the way, doesn't display a new login form on the same page. No, it's a live hyperlink to a new page that has to load.
Now, I can appreciate the need to protect information that requires a log-in. And, indeed, I'm glad that they do. However, LinkedIn has managed to find a masterful way of remembering you–really remembering you–and yet still protecting what needs to be protected behind login.
When I arrive at LinkedIn.com, I can see everything I expect to see considering that I am a registered user and they do in fact remember me. I can navigate uninterrupted. It's not a faux remembrance. However, If I attempt to post, update, or change any data, they interrupt me with a quick log-in dialogue, which actually remembers my username. So, only one quick field to fill out, hit enter, and I continue on seamlessly.
I've been working to get better at remembering my own customers, too. At my site, we've been offering to remember customers for a long time. Check the box and we'll remember your log-in credentials for you. But, recently I learned a new trick from my friend Mack Earnhardt that you may want to employ. If someone's session expires, or if they visit a link that requires login first, before kicking them out to the login screen, store a session variable with the destination they were going for. Then, after successful login, they're redirected right where they wanted to go. (Thanks, Mack)
The best way to know how to set your site to remember visitors is to be a frequent visitor yourself. Use the site as your customers would, see what works and what doesn't. I cannot imagine that GoDaddy staff actually uses their own website to manage their own domain — likely the reason their frustrating process has gone unnoticed. LinkedIn, on the other hand, is probably very active with their own tool. Do you walk in the shoes of your customers? Remember what it's like to feel forgotten.