October 23, 2013
This is the sixth post in a series that will explore a set of questions I received from participants during a webinar on the topic of customer service. (I say “explore” rather than “answer” because I’ve discovered over the years that there is rarely a single right answer to these types of questions. More often, there are a variety of solutions or guidelines that, when applied, produce successful outcomes.)
Question: What’s your opinion about addressing customers by their first names during interactions?
We tend to enjoy hearing the sound of our own name during conversations with others. By remembering and using our names, others express genuine interest in us and may, when names are recalled at a later date, make us feel valued and complimented.
That being said, it’s important to be sensitive to generational, cultural, and other differences when using customers’ first names in particular. My 76-year-old father-in-law, for example, resents being referred to as “Richard” by a 20-something barista when his coffee order is ready.
Also, last summer before I participated in a podcast that was recorded in England, I read up on communication differences between the U.S. and England. One of the conversational nuances that emerged from my reading was a suggestion to avoid stating my communication partner’s name repeatedly throughout the interview (e.g., “That’s a good question, Adrienne. The first thing I would do…”), as many Brits find this annoying.
Does this apply in every case with every English conversation partner? No. It’s a generalization. Even so, it’s something I’d prefer to be aware of than not.
The best advice I’ve heard relative to generational, cultural, or other differences is that the only true safe assumption is: don’t assume. Generally speaking, as it applies to the appropriate use of first names during conversations, this means requesting permission before using first names and, at least as it applies to the English culture, governing its use.
In the first paragraph, I suggested that there’s rarely a single “right” answer to these types of questions. You’ve read my response. Now it’s your turn. How would you respond to the above question?
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Illustration by Aaron McKissen.