Skip the Stupid Titles for Better Customer Service

OK, sometimes I am slow to get things done, life is like that. This post has been sitting in my pending file for a few weeks, but it needed to get done so here it is.

Recently,  a tweet from the amazing Maddie Grant passed  my way, and here is what is said:

“Please hold for an appointment specialist?” WTF? I just want a frackin pediatrician appointment. Aaarghhhh!!!

I get her frustration.. I understand they she probably wants to fly through the phone and SCREAM…

I am a pretty left-leaning guy, in fact, I am way to the left. I want everyone to be treated with equality, fairness, and respect. This is how I roll… but let me be very clear, I understand that the world does not operate this way so I am sometimes perplexed when the world tries to make everyone equal.

As a population, in our zeal to make everyone special and not “looked down on” and equal and politically correct, we have specialized everything. We no longer have janitors, we have sanitation engineers, we do not have receptionists, we have “appointment specialists”.

On the surface, these titles are meant to make everyone equal, it is an attempt to give dignity and respect to what can sometimes be a really shitty gig. I understand the motivation but it is no longer working.

When I ran a conference sales department (back in the day) we used to make all of our sales associates “director of sales” or “VP of sales” because we sold to VP-level clients and this made the potential client feel like they were talking to an equal and gave the sales person the confidence to speak with authority. It is amazing what a title can do for someone’s ego.

We had a kid (21 just out of college) that we called Yeah Yeah. He earned this nickname because when he first started, you would ask him a question, for example, “are you going to happy hour?” and he would respond “Yeah, yeah… I am going”. He was awesome, funny, and a good guy…. also a little shy.

Giving him the title of director of sales, he was able to secure a call with a director of marketing for a large pharma company and the two hit it off and he was soon on the way to his first $6,000.00 sponsorship commission (that was his net, not the cost of the sponsorship). The confidence he gained soon put a stop to the “yeah, yeahs” and he became a big swinging bat in the sales department. I am sure that this has carried through to his career many years later.

Having witnessed this, I am not lost on the power of a title, but it is not working anymore, the time when a made-up title worked has past and we have taken it to the limit of common sense. We passed the point of idiocy and made a title almost worthless.

You no longer have a dude that makes your coffee, you have a Barista (how must a true Barista feel), you no longer have a secretary, you have a personal assistant, you no longer have a bartender, you have a mixologist…. I was a bartender for many years (college and my early career) and I would never want to be called a “mixologist”… I work for a living, thank you.

The thing is… people get it. They get that the title is a sham…People understand that you are simply trying to hoodwink them and make them feel better and make them want to believe that the person that they are talking to can actually solve their problems. The reality is, we know that they can’t. We know that they are the same old gal, making minimum wage, and that they really don’t give a rat’s ass about us or our problems because they do not have the tools to complete the job, they only have a title that sounds like they have the power. They want us off the phone as much as we want to be off the phone. They want to hand us our coffee and see us on our way with as little fuss as possible.

The staff person knows the game too and when they first start the job and you tell them that they are a “mixologist”, they roll their eyes and say to themselves “God, how stupid, I just want to pour drinks”, when you tell them that they are a “registration specialist” they know that there is nothing special about their job.

In the event world, stop jerking your attendee’s chain, they are not a dog. Instead, have everyone just treat each other with a little respect and call them what they are. A registration agent, or a registration person, or better yet, Tom in the Registration Department. There is no need to put lipstick on this particular animal because it is what it is. This does not call for a larger title, it calls for dignity.

Empower your registration staff with the power to make decisions quickly and help your attendees get the help they need and knock off the titles like:

  • A Certified, Extra Special, Candy on Top, Registration, Guru, Expert, Specialist

Just call a rose a rose. It won’t fit on a business card anyway.

Keith Johnston

Keith Johnston

Keith is the Managing Partner of i3 Events but is most widely known as the outspoken publisher of the event industry blog PlannerWire. In addition to co-hosting the Bullet List and Event Tech Pull Up Podcasts, he has been featured in Plan Your Meetings, Associations Now, Convene, Event Solutions, and has appeared on the cover of Midwest Meetings Magazine.

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