“How can I help you, hon?”
“Can I get you anything else, dear?”
“Have a good day, sweetheart!”
While these types of phrases and pet names might sound okay coming from your significant other, it’s quite normal to feel uncomfortable hearing them from a complete stranger!
Alas, these and other terms of “endearment” are used by customer service representatives all the time—and the discomfort they bring could do a lot to hurt an organization’s reputation. Customer service representatives communicate with countless different people every day. Their main goal is to provide a pleasant experience by fostering a positive relationship and earning a guest’s trust.
Using terms of endearment with people we know and love is typically used to create an immediate sense of warmth, familiarity, and affection. Calling someone you hardly know “sweetheart” or “babe” in today’s day and age, however, is not going to come off as innocent or welcoming. It’ll actually accomplish quite the opposite.
We would argue that more times than not, using a pet name with a customer will make them feel uncomfortable and less likely to return. The reality is, most customers are strangers or mere acquaintances only taking part in a transactional relationship—they don’t want to be your “hon” or any other pet name.
We promise: you can still be kind and endearing without using this type of language. Calling someone you don’t know “dear” gives an unearned sense of familiarity that many customers today may find jarring, condescending, and ultimately disrespectful. Keep reading to learn why many people today find terms of endearment in customer service outdated and unnecessary.
WHY TERMS OF ENDEARMENT HAVE NO PLACE IN CUSTOMER SERVICE
Let’s take a look at a real-life example many of us may be able to relate to. This blogger wrote about an experience where a much younger male deli counter employee called her “sweetheart” during a transaction. This term felt far too familiar coming from a man she didn’t know—not to mention the lack of respect and formality of turning this term of endearment into something seemingly casual.
Even worse, when the woman asked politely for the employee not to refer to her in such a way, HE was offended. As you can imagine, this uncomfortable situation left such a bad taste in the blogger’s mouth that she actually ended up frequenting a different grocery store altogether. And rightfully so! But this is something she shouldn’t have had to deal with in the first place.
The heart of the issue comes down to a lack of respect and self-awareness from the deli counter employee. You see, the role of the customer is to pay money for a product or service to improve their lives, which in turn keeps a business profitable. At the end of the day, that’s the extent of the consumers’ relationship with an organization and its employees.
Terms of endearment should always be reserved for significant others, children, parents, friends, and others with whom we have a meaningful relationship—not a stranger on the phone or behind a counter. With that being said, we understand that many customer service representatives think using these types of terms will help form a connection between themselves and the customer.
This may have worked back in the day, but in 2021, this couldn’t be farther from the truth. In fact, using this type of language often puts customers in an uncomfortable position. When terms of endearment are used outside of meaningful relationships, it often infantilizes the person in a situation. This is especially a problem when they have already come to the customer representative for some sort of service or help. When a representative uses words like “honey,” “babe,” “dear,” or “sweetheart,” it can tip the scales of power uncomfortably and inappropriately off-kilter.
In all reality, using these terms to anyone you are not well-acquainted with can come across as sexist, ageist, or downright offensive. Not to mention the different ways it could be taken cross-culturally! In cultures where respect and honor for elders are strictly upheld, referring to an older customer as “sweetie” would be extremely insulting.
DOES EVERYONE FEEL THIS WAY?
The thing is—you’ll never know right off the bat how a customer feels about terms of endearment. While there may still be people out there who find these sentiments reassuring and pleasant, there will still be a large majority who find it demeaning and unprofessional.
As a customer service representative, you don’t need to be using any language that makes others feel uncomfortable—especially when most service communications are set up to be fleeting and impersonal. Practice self-awareness!
While you may be coming from a place of good intention when you use a term like “hon,” you simply never know a person’s past with this type of endearing language. A regular at a diner might be okay with their waitress calling them “hon” after years of patronage and camaraderie. But it’s a different situation to have a customer service representative you have no relationship with call you a pet name.
It can be extremely off-putting—especially if the person has ever been in a situation where terms like “honey” or “dear” have been used in a demeaning way to make them feel less-than in a past job or relationship. This is why it’s always better to refer to customers in a consistent and respectful manner. When it comes to using terms of endearment, just remember that most people today simply don’t want to hear it—particularly in a professional encounter.
SO… WHAT SHOULD WE DO?
We have a simple solution for you: only use the customer’s name. Ask them what they would like to be called at the beginning of the interaction and use what they tell you until the end.
It may seem obvious, and it may seem vanilla, but we can tell you this: nobody will feel uncomfortable being called by their own name. It’s the most consistent, appropriate, and respectful way to address your customers. Don’t just take it from us; writers from Forbes and The Guardian concur with this consumer opinion – “Stop Calling Me, ‘Hon’!”
We have over 30 years of experience in training teams like yours for success, and we can’t wait to educate your employees to create positive experiences for your customers. Reach out to equip your team with the customer service skills to grow your business.
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