Should You address your customer as Sir/Madam?

“Sir, do you have any requirement of centrifuges?” Said Biswas during  one of the role-plays in our Value-Selling Programs. My partner, Ramiah Daniels and I have been  questioning this habit of sales and service people addressing customers as Sir/Madam (rather than by the latter’s name) for quite a while. The common justifications provided by the participants are:

  1. Customer feels respected.
  2. Easy to build rapport during client interaction.
  3. Customer has to be treated like God.

Can we question  the veracity of the above statements?

As indicated in the figure, the behaviour displayed that is visible is like the tip of the iceberg. What might be the attitude, belief or paradigm underneath ( and thus invisible) such words?

  1. Legacy of the colonial mindset: On similar lines, It was customary to address the judge as My Lord by the lawyers, the practise which has been slowly dispensed with.
  2. Shift in Power structure: As a salesperson when you address the other person as Sir/Madam, you are handing the control to the other person by putting him/her on a pedestal.
  3. NLP Perspective: The basic premise of Neuro-Linguistic Programming, NLP is your body physiology ( neural system -N  which include your posture, breathing rate and the way – shallow, normal, or deep, eye contact, the skin resistance etc.) is determined by thoughts/belief system and by  the words ( Linguistic – L ) you use. The NEURAL affects the LINGUISTIC and vice versa. Both simultaneously run a specific behaviour pattern which becomes your dominant behaviour which is the programming (P). The eye contact is evasive; the voice tone being less confident, displays the obsequious and the servile approach of the salesperson. Is it fair enough to assume that by  addressing someone as Sir/Madam by default, the salesperson has already lost half the battle?
  4. Less Effort: When you address someone as Sir/madam; the salesperson  does not have to take any effort in asking as well as remembering the full name of the customer.
  5. Low Self Esteem: The salesperson feels he/she is the prime beneficiary in a business  transaction by collecting the order, which in turn helps him in reaching the sales targets leading to a low self-esteem.

If the customer were to be  God, does he behave the same way while negotiating hard on the price and the payment terms?

Is there a better way of addressing the customer  by his name? The conventional norm is either prefix Mister with the Surname, or address by the first name. For example, while meeting a prospect say, Ramiah Daniels, you may say, “would you prefer to be addressed as Mr. Daniels, or Ramiah?” I doubt  the customer says, ”you better address me as Sir.”

There are several advantages when you address the customer by name:

  1. Confident Behaviour: Your body language, eye contact evokes confidence. Your handshake is firm.
  2. Respect from the Customer: The customer reciprocates with  similar respect to the salesperson.
  3. Improved Customer Engagement: You may be able to connect with the customer when you listen to his full name carefully. Almost a decade back, I was having a meeting with one Mr. Reginald Borges who was the GM at APW president then.  When enquired about his relationship with Dr. Ernest Borges he said, “ Happens to  be my distant uncle.” Incidentally Dr. Ernest Borges was a renowned  cancer surgeon at the Tata Memorial Hospital in whose memory a road ( at the beginning of a 2-km stretch in Parel) has been named.
  4. Higher Self-Esteem: Remember, in any business transaction, the customer also enjoys the benefits of the products over a long duration which can help a salesperson raise his  self-esteem.

Is there  anything wrong in addressing someone as Sir? Not at all- if you are meeting someone reverential, exceptionally talented or to whom you have great admiration and respect, please follow your natural instincts.

Barring the above exceptions, is it possible to inculcate  the Ritz Carlton philosophy while interacting with regular customers:  ‘Ladies and Gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen?’

P.S.To explore more such learning insights visit: Value-Selling for Premium Products and Solutions commencing on 11th January 2022

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