Is it appropriate to be on first name terms with your customers?

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When it comes to business, how should you speak to your clients and customers?

How formal is too formal? In the modern world, we rarely address our bosses with an official title and surname. It would feel rather strange to say to your director: "Im sorry I was late this morning Mr Hunter." Theres something quite quaint about it, but it also feels wholly inappropriate. So with work colleagues, friends and neighbours its common practice these days to be on a first name basis. But when it comes to business, how should you speak to your clients and customers?

Is it a bit old-fashioned to call people by their title and surname or does it still seem rather rude to only use their first name? Its apparent that many companies these days are just not sure about the correct etiquette. After all, if youre promoting your business as modern, forward-thinking and extremely contemporary isnt it then a bit awkward to practise traditional levels of formality with clients?

Recent research conducted by insurer Standard Life Healthcare manages to clear up a few issues about what your customers will expect from you. It also highlights how important first impressions are and in any competitive industry you just cant afford to get it wrong. Offending your customers is a nail in the coffin of any operation.

You may be surprised to discover that the majority of customers prefer a more formal approach, with 69 per cent of people questioned saying that they like a "good morning" compared to 22 per cent who preferred "hello". But be warned, that less than 10 per cent said that they preferred the less formal "hi".

What was apparent from the research was that, as in any relationship, the first impression you make will stay firmly in the mind of the customer – whether this is good or bad. So get it right first time and you could be on your way to forging strong and lasing relations with your target market.

But, of course, much of this etiquette also depends on how old you are. The different generations expect different things and its imperative that your operations reflect and respect these differences. A significant 53 per cent of 16 to 24-year-olds and 43 per cent of 25 to 34-year-olds are happy to be called by their first name in most situations. When it comes to the over 35s, then its a completely different story, with many more in favour of being called by their title and surname.

Theres also the issue of manner. How you say something is just as important as what you say and that whole argument about whether or not people can tell if youre smiling down the phone is certainly addressed in this research. A massive 68 per cent of people claimed that they can definitely tell if someone is smiling. When it comes to the younger age group – between 16 and 34 years old – 77 per cent claim they can tell if the person talking to them is happy. If they are, then the customer will clearly respond well to this.

The survey also brought up some very interesting points about the way young people want to communicate with businesses. It seems that theyre not just happy to talk. More than half of the people under 35 who were questioned said they would love to be able to text suppliers with queries and receive replies. As many people in the UK now dont leave home without their mobile phone then this seems a very logical request.


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