September 26, 2012
Recently, I was approached by an employee of a community bank that has a branch inside my local Albertsons supermarket. He decided that it would be a good idea to use the 30-roll package of Charmin toilet tissue visible in my cart as a conversation starter, saying, “I can see you got the essentials (chuckle)!”
“Huh?” I asked. To which he replied, “In my fraternity house, we never have any toilet tissue but we always have liquor (chuckle).”
Apparently, he now felt as though he’d built sufficient rapport to launch into his bank’s mortgage refinancing options. He hadn’t. In fact, he grossly misjudged his audience. I am not a 20-something fraternity brother. I am not a peer. I am a generation removed from this overly familiar, boorish, and unprofessional “banker.” Under no circumstances would I ever consider opening an account with this person, let alone entrusting him with something as important as my home’s mortgage.
Establishing rapport with prospective customers is often the first step in attracting their business. But the way you build rapport with peers outside of work is very different from the way you do so with prospective customers in a work setting—especially when other factors are present such as differences in age, gender, and ethnicity.
It’s fine to engage prospective and current customers by asking questions and using appropriate humor. Just avoid distasteful humor and appearing overly familiar. And, unless you’re manning the Procter & Gamble booth at a consumer products trade show, refrain from using toilet tissue as a conversation starter.
What do you think?
Illustration: Aaron McKissen