When I was a kid, there were several days in the summers when I would stay with my Grandma and Grandpa in Mesa, AZ. My dad would wake us up at 4:30am, make us get dressed, and drop us off on his way to McDonnell Douglas. We would quietly slip into the living room, my sister would promptly go back to sleep on the couch. I would turn on the TV really low to WGN and watch the Bozo-Puter spit out some numbers so a kid could throw ping pong balls to try and win a Schwinn bicycle in the Grand Prize Game.
We would stay the day with my grandparents and then my dad would pick us up around 3PM on his way home.
Fast forward 20 years and I found myself selling to customers at Shea Trilogy, an active adult community in Peoria, AZ. I’m talking to a “member” (as Shea calls them) about her experience thus far. She tells me that when the pool guy called her the other day, he asked for Jackie. He then says “Jackie, I made a mistake on the paperwork the other day, and I need you and Chuck to come down and sign again next time you are in the area.” This woman looks at me and says, “I said in reply ‘Jackie? I don’t know you. Excuse me?’. We aren’t friends, why is he using my first name?” I realized all the summers with my grandparents really laid down the groundwork for how I could develop quick rapport with folks I was 2 generations removed from.
I already hear some of you saying this is silly, but it falls under etiquette.
You have to understand the generational and cultural differences of your customers, and follow etiquette that conforms to those parameters.
I always start business relationships with Mr. and Ms. followed by the surname. I do it until someone tells me not to. I am not trying to distance myself from the customer and be detatched. On the contrary I long for the personal relationship to develop (I mean look, I’m blogging at 2am on a Friday night, I don’t turn down many friends).
I also use ‘sir’ and ‘ma’am’ until at some point, they say “You can call me Bob”, or “My father was ‘sir”.
My thought is I will never offend anyone by starting this way, but starting in the opposite, using first names too early, can cause some issues. It is great to get on a first name basis with your customers, but you need to make sure that the customer is defining when that takes place. Some will put you there right away, and others will make you earn it.