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Are You Offending Your Self-Storage Prospects Without Realizing It?

What a self-storage manager chooses to call a prospect before the person’s name is learned or any kind of rapport is developed can create mutual trust and respect or, perhaps, alienation. It may seem innocuous, but the honorifics we choose to apply to complete strangers can inadvertently send the wrong message about who we are and what our business represents.

Tony Jones

January 29, 2015

4 Min Read
Are You Offending Your Self-Storage Prospects Without Realizing It?

Greeting strangers can be a precarious position for anyone in business. In a retail or service setting, including self-storage, a prospect’s first impression of the person he’s dealing with has a tremendous influence on whether or not he will become a customer. What a facility manager chooses to call a prospect before the person’s name is learned or any kind of rapport is developed can create mutual trust and respect or, perhaps, alienation.

It may seem innocuous, but the honorifics we choose to apply to complete strangers can inadvertently send the wrong message about who we are and what our business represents. Naming conventions and etiquette should really be part of a thorough customer-service strategy, and the terms least likely to offend the prospect or customer should be the standard method of greeting, whether on the phone or in person.

In the last few months, I’ve had multiple service providers address me as “Boss.” In each instance, the person speaking to me was a young male, likely between the ages of 18 and 25. While I believe the term was meant to be used in a manner of respect or endearment, I have to admit I was instantly put off. I’m a laidback, easygoing guy for the most part, but every time I’ve been called “Boss” has made me bristle.

“Here’s your drink, Boss.”
“Here’s your change, Boss.”

Honestly, it feels mocking or insincere in some manner. As a patron, I don’t like to be patronized. Just respectfully call me “sir,” and let’s move on.

Besides its obvious supervisory connotation, “boss” has multiple meanings, with the most common slang being an adjective to describe something really great. This has been around since the 1940s or ’50s. I’m less clear on when it became a common greeting, although there may be some regional association with its prevalence (and, therefore, acceptance), such as in the Northeast.

As a Southern California kid, I’ve got “dude” embedded in my vocabulary and use it freely around my friends and family, but I would never presume to call a prospective customer “Dude.” To me, if “Boss” is in play in a business environment, why not just call me “Sport,” “Chief” or “Bro”? Why don’t we bring back “Daddy-O” while we’re at it?

Interestingly, Urban Dictionary has 147 entries for “boss” on its website, but No. 31 sums up the way it can come across in a business context:

“Disingenuous form of address used by insolent little [brats], which although ostensibly deferential, actually implies that they don't actually have any respect for you at all.”

Again, in my experience, I don’t believe this was the intent. But like the person who submitted this definition online, it most certainly has been my perception. In business, that can be a death knell, and yet, it’s almost entirely avoidable.

While I doubt any of these young men were instructed to use “Boss” as an honorific, I also doubt there was much discussion about appropriate terms to use in its place. There’s a good chance none of these guys’ supervisors even know this is their standard greeting with male customers, and I can’t help but wonder what terms they use when addressing female patrons.

Before this recent rash of “Boss” talk, I hadn’t given this issue much thought, other than the first few times I was ever old enough to be called “sir.” That took some adjusting, but mainly because there is an age threshold involved, similar to the arbitrary line between “miss” and “ma’am.” Women deal with far worse than men, whether it be “Honey,” “Sweetie,” “Sugar” or what have you.

The problem is even the prevailing acceptable terms are not universally loved. I know women who prefer being called “Ma’am” and others who detest it. “Miss” or “Ms.” have their limitations and detractors. “Madam” seems to have been lost, except when written on various phone scripts. Some men think “Sir” is too formal and prefer something that puts the two parties on more equal footing. I’m just not sure I buy that “Boss” is the appropriate answer.

I would love to hear how you tackle this when dealing with prospective self-storage customers. I’m a big proponent of personalized greetings once you have won someone’s business and have a good sense of who the client is as an individual. It’s great strategy on the phone to quickly learn someone’s name and frequently repeat it back during your conversation. But up until you’ve learned the person’s name, what do you do? Once you’re comfortable with a tenant or walk-in, what name substitutes do you typically use?

Although customer-service etiquette may be a small portion of a sales presentation or overall customer-service program, it may be worth your time to review the terms you use as a manager within a business context or even have a discussion with fellow staff members about what they believe is appropriate.

After all, the last thing you want to do is accidentally offend when your intent is to win someone’s business, loyalty and trust.

About the Author(s)

Tony Jones

ISS Store Manager, Contributing Editor, Inside Self-Storage

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