Picture the scene… I’m in a shop buying (yet another) leather metallic beach bag that I’m planning to take to Ibiza. The only problem is they didn’t have it in stock so the assistant told me she could order it online. “Can I have your email address, my lovely?” she asked. Your what? Surely, I hadn’t heard her correctly. I was actually rendered quite speechless (rare for me). “Did you say that’s Hellen with two ls, my lovely?” she asked.
My face must have been a picture. Now, here I am, knocking on 51, certainly old enough to be her mother and, admittedly, very lovely. But, I am not her lovely. She is a millennial shop assistant. I am her customer, not her lovely. In a minute, she’s going to be calling me sweet cheeks, I feared.
“So, you can pick it up on Wednesday. Alright, my dear?” No, it is not all right. In fact, it’s bloody outrageous, I wanted to say.
But it got me thinking. Is it her fault? Has anyone told her that it’s not ok to call your customers ‘dear’, ‘lovely’ or even the dreaded ‘guys’? (Oliver Bonas please sort your in-staff training out ASAP).
I know it’s a generational thing, but if I don’t know a customer’s name I still call them sir or madam
I know it’s a generational thing, but if I don’t know a customer’s name I still call them sir or madam. Even when long-standing clients ask me to call them by their first name, I struggle. To me they are Mr or Mrs. It’s just respectful of the relationship.
North End Road Market in Fulham is one of the most amazing street markets for fresh fruit, vegetables and bread. It’s peppered with stall holders who are true cockney geezers. I really don’t mind if they call me “love” or even the cheeky “treacle”. It feels right because the environment, and therefore my expectations, are totally different from when I’m in a high-end salon or boutique.
So, what should our younger team members call our customers? I understand that sir or madam are a bit outdated. But there must be a middle ground between that and “guys”? If you have any suggestions please do let me know because I’m flummoxed.
Back to my story. My millennial girl committed another cardinal customer service sin in closing our transaction. When I left, I said thank you, as I always do, and she said, “That’s OK”.
No, it is not OK. The “thank you” is not intended to express that you have gone out of your way to help me, it’s merely manners.
Staff in a service occupation should never reply, “That’s OK”. Take a leaf out of some other cultures and say, “You’re welcome” or even the Spanish “de nada”, which is my favourite and literally translates to “it’s nothing”. But do not tell me that it’s OK. I know it’s OK – I have just spent money in your workplace and therefore helped pay your wages. I do not need your approval.
Maybe it’s time we spoke to our teams and reminded them that something so seemingly trivial as how we address our clients could actually be the very thing that may make them look elsewhere. PB