Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Life In the Penthouse-Why I Fight For My Title

THE conversation usually goes like this:

''Can I have your name, please.''

''It's Koop Kooper.''

''And what can I do for you today, Koop?''

''Well, the first thing you can do is show me some respect as a customer and call me Mr Kooper.''



The reply then varies, from stunned silence to stuttering to a humble apology to, remarkably often, ''Certainly, Koop''.

I don't raise my voice, but I do politely insist. Once the message gets across, even after a few attempts, things go smoothly.

I do consider myself to be a friendly person. First names at first meeting are no problem in ordinary social situations. My point is that when I am a customer dealing with a business that, supposedly, values my business (at least they keep saying they do), then that is not a social situation. The same goes for calls to government departments, where I am a citizen and a taxpayer in a democracy, and worthy of respect as such.

It's common to blame the first-name thing on the Americans. In fact, I find American customer service people are far more likely to address a caller as ''Mr'', ''Ma'am'' and even, occasionally, ''Sir''. From my experience of Continental Europe, it's definitely ''Monsieur'', ''Mein Herr'' or ''Signore'' all the way. Not so in Britain, though. The automatic use of first names with clients or customers, or the public in general, is peculiarly Anglo-Australian.

So if I'm not just a pompous curmudgeon, which I don't think I am, then why do I care? Actually it's about power. As Koop I am someone whose query or complaint can be far more easily brushed aside than if I am Mr Kooper. Koop probably just doesn't understand the intricacies of running a multinational business, or quite how busy and important the public servant he's talking to is, or how unimportant his problem is. Mr Kooper, on the other hand, might be someone, might have something to say and, more importantly, might be willing to stand his ground. Whether I am or not all these, I deserve to be treated as if I were.

I don't blame the call-centre operators. They are just following procedure, as instructed. Most of these calls are recorded, however, and if enough of us politely put it on the record that we are Mr or Mrs or Ms Somebody, then maybe we won't be treated as nobodies quite so often