I began work in retail and was a polite lad, so I called every male customer Sir. As I grew older, the habit stuck and I used Sir in my other roles.
To my surprise, it didn’t always have the desired effect.
Nor does it always work when I’m the customer.
For six years I mixed paint, sold mowers and advised men on sheds and security doors. I used Sir to great effect and never hit a snag.
Pulling beers in a working suburb, I felt a murmur among the patrons every time I used Sir. I stuck with it, thinking they weren’t used to such good service.
Then a couple of drinkers signalled their preference for Mate. I agreed, but used Sir with the rest. The innkeeper took me aside and explained that:
1. His drinkers weren’t fond of Sirs.
2. They didn’t want to be called one.
3. I sounded like one.
4. This was putting them off their beer.
When fixing and furnishing my home, I addressed my suppliers as Sir. As deadlines slid and costs blew out, I became ever more polite in an effort to ‘reach’ them. This triggered worse service.
In hindsight, I believe my use of Sir signalled that I was too incompetent, unmanly and/or nice to be taken seriously, and that I could be ignored with impunity.
As detailed in All Washed Up the salesman’s incessant use of Sir made it more of a punctuation mark than a mark of respect. In that exchange, I felt no elevation of title.
Last week I had a hire suit fitting. I was certain the immaculate consultant would address me as Sir. Instead, she led with Love and progressed to Darl as she took my measure.
Though initially shocked, I must admit that her approach made for a pleasant interaction. But would she have taken a different tack if I’d been buying the suit? What if I were buying a BMW? And what if the consultant were male?
Deciding what to call customers isn’t as easy as it looks. Treating people with ‘respect’ varies with their definition. And it seems that class, nation and gender may be skewing the stats.
It should be obvious by now that I need help with this one.
Do you use Sir? If so, under what circumstances? How does it go down? If not, what do you call your customers?
Paul Hassing, Founder & Senior Writer, The Feisty Empire