Don’t “Honey” Me

January 27, 2013

There are customer service workshops that are designed for just about every business under the sun but one thing is noticeably absent.  Salesclerks are given general rules of behavior, especially with regards to getting a customer interested in the product and then knowing how to close the sale, but they aren’t taught how to speak to the customer.

They are given some good advice about treating customers as you would want to be treated, and/or treating customers as they would want to be treated.  They are taught how to address a customer, e.g., calling someone ma’am or sir, or Mr. or Ms, or asking if the customer would mind being addressed by their first name, but they aren’t given guidelines about the kind of titles that customers detest.

For me, and probably millions of other customers, I don’t like to be patronized.  I can’t stand it when someone acts condescending to me, as if I didn’t have a working brain cell in my head.

Case in point: I needed to buy something.  I knew exactly what I wanted and how much I was prepared to spend.  I even knew the store I wanted to purchase it from.  Yesterday I went with someone to that store and the salesman was obnoxious.  He was so condescending that I wanted to walk out of the store without buying the thing I came for.  However, reason prevailed and I decided not to cut off my nose to spite my face.

The salesman had already asked me my name but he kept calling me Honey.  “Honey, this item comes with . . . Honey, if you don’t buy this to go with it . . . Honey, it’s worth the extra money to also purchase . . . Honey, there is an extra charge for this, so unless you, etc. . . .”

My friend and I looked at each other and we both felt that the salesman was being condescending.  My friend is more of a pacifist than I and he would have let it go.  I couldn’t.  When the salesman went off to check something, I turned to my friend and told him “When the salesman comes back, I’m going to start calling him Dear.”

“Dear” is not one of the words I use in talking to someone.  If I really like someone, I might call that person “Sweetie” but never “Dear.”  In fact, I can’t ever recall using it when addressing a stranger although I am aware that this endearment is often used when a person can’t remember someone’s name or isn’t sure if he has ever met the person who seems to know him.

“Honey” reminds me of the “good ‘ol boys” who spoke condescendingly to women when they felt threatened or wanted to act superior to remind women that they were second-class citizens not to be taken seriously.  It was a put-down of the worst kind because it was designed to make women aware of their insignificance in the larger scheme of life.

At least the “me, Tarzan, you, Jane” words convey the innate understanding that this is a caveman mentality and not acceptable in modern society.  Many a comedian has used the Tarzan and Jane dialogue in their jokes and, in that capacity, they are funny.  When the caveman behavior is used in communicating with women today, it’s insulting and not the least bit humorous.

When my caveman salesman came back, I asked him, “Dear, what did you find out?”  I could see him trying to regroup and he then addressed me as Mrs.  Every time he opened his mouth, I called him Dear and each and every time he had to struggle to remind himself to call me Mrs.  I had not told him to call me Mrs., but I certainly didn’t expect him to call me Honey.

This salesman was several decades younger than I am; he wasn’t my friend or even an acquaintance of mine so his endearment sounded as offensive as it was meant to be.  If I hadn’t already decided, before I came to the store that I wanted to buy the item from this particular store because I had been satisfied with their customer service policy in the past, I would have walked out without purchasing it and gone elsewhere.

I called this salesman “Dear” so often, it’s a wonder he didn’t understand that I was rebuking him for his lack of customer service skills.  However, not once, from the time he came back to give me the information that I needed and I called him “Dear,” did he call me “Honey.”

I hope I called him Dear often enough that he had to talk about it at their weekly sales meeting and I hope that his manager was smart enough to correct his offensive behavior.

He doesn’t know how lucky he is that his sales commission yesterday was based on the store’s previous record for handling my disputes in an excellent manner and that it wasn’t based on his salesmanship or customer service skills.  He is probably also lucky that his store doesn’t conduct surveys and feedback on whether their customers were satisfied with the way they were treated.

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