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Please … don’t call me ma’am & why are you calling?

November 13, 2011
Mary Jane Copps

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Toward the end of the day Thursday, I placed a call to a local museum on behalf of one of the magazines I represent for Metro Guide Publishing. A very energetic young man answered the phone. His desire to be of service was obvious and delightful! He told me that the person I needed to speak with was away until Monday and we ended our conversation with my saying I’d call back at the beginning of this week. Sounds like good telephone communication doesn’t it?

I’d have to give it an “almost” because, as is often the case, one word in the call distracted me, made me cranky. At the end of every sentence the young man called me “ma’am”.

“Grrrr,” I said when I hung up the phone. “I wish people would stop using that word!”.

Lindsay looked up from her work and asked, “What word?”

“Ma’am,” I said. “It makes me feel ancient.”

“It shouldn’t,” she said. “People use that word with me all the time.” This totally surprised me because Lindsay is only 21!

“So,” I asked, “How does it make you feel?”

“It’s very impersonal,” Lindsay replied. “It sounds procedural to me, like they are handling me, moving me through a system in an automatic way.”

Yikes – that might be even worse than making me feel old! I got up to make a cup of tea and met Vicki in the kitchen. She works for Lengkeek Vessel Engineering Inc. the company I share office space with. I asked her about the word “ma’am”.

“Oh I hear it all the time too, ” she said. “It’s a cold word. I know they don’t care about me or what I’m saying when they use that word.”

That’s not good!

On the telephone the words we use give life to our conversations. They have the power to create relationship or destroy it – and this power resides in the ears of the listener. On that basis, I’d say that “ma’am” is destructive.

While I hear it as a comment on my middle age, Vicki, who is a dozen years younger, hears it as dismissive and Lindsay, just barely out of her teens, hears it as a robotic response. All of us are pushed away, turned off, unengaged by this one word. If you, or your staff, are using it, STOP. Strive to use first names – nothing builds a relationship faster than using a person’s first name.

What about you? What’s your reaction to the word “ma’am”?

And here’s a response to one of this weel’s questions: “What is the main purpose of a phone call to a potential client?”

This is THE right question for all of us to ask and answer. It is vital that, before you pick up the phone, you know why you are calling. I’ve listened to the words of people who haven’t been clear on why they are calling me. These are difficult – and non-productive – phone calls.

Even before you make the call to a potential customer please, PLEASE, know they are a potential customer. Take the time to do your research. This will eliminate awkward and sometimes debilitating conversations.

Now … the most obvious answer to the question is – we want the prospect to become our customer. But this can’t be the focus of your initial call. It goes back to the reality that we all work with people we trust and it is rare to be successful in building trust in just one phone call.

So your first call is about:

  1. Informing them that your product/service/cause exists and requesting permission to send along detailed information for their consideration
  2. Introducing yourself and asking for a one-on-one meeting
  3. Introducing your product and requesting permission to drop off samples
  4. Inviting them to a presentation or event
  5. Offering them access to something for free – perhaps a white paper or webinar or download
  6. Making the connection between your service and their needs and asking permission to create a custom presentation or proposal for them

All of these involve follow up – follow up – follow up. It is in the follow up that a potential customer becomes an actual customer.

It’s certainly possible that this list of reasons isn’t complete. What do you think? What is the main purpose of phoning a potential client?

Happy phonework everyone! TPL

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