I’m sure this appears often. You answer the phone and the unfamiliar voice on the other end says: “How are you doing today?”
Immediately you know that the caller does not give a fig about how you are.
Usually, though, I say: “Fine. What are you selling?”
I do this on the off chance they are selling something I’m in the market for. Otherwise, why are they wasting time pretending to care? The caller may gasp, as if “selling” were a dirty word, solemnly insisting that “no” this call is not about sales but a chance to save a child, an endangered species, or money on my cell phone bill, or to maximize my investments, sales, home value, or mileage.
Another giveaway is name-mangling. If you are my friend, or even an online acquaintance, you know that I go by Barb, not Barbara. My last name, Sawyers, should not be difficult for anyone who read, or heard of, Mark Twain’s classic “Tom Sawyer.” Sadly, it is. In the rest of the world, where many of these calls originate, this unfamiliar name inspires “Swayer” and similar fumbles. Please, get it right or don’t say my name.
Don’t say my name
Because this name-use is fake friendly, I don’t follow the advice of email marketers, who insist that my newsletter should start with “Hello, Susie” or whatever. I assume that all my subscribers are smart enough to know that this is an email list. The true friends know who they are.
Then there are the marketing emails that fake friendship by leading with hollow small talk, usually a comment on the weather or season, reminiscent of those mimeographed letters my aunt in Manitoba used to send everyone who’d left the prairies. Or maybe they took that old sales course that insists that weather is the basic commonality for striking up a conversation.
Don’t talk about the season
Here’s an example I received from a self-proclaimed Internet marketing expert last month, when the kids were still in school and summer had been under way for only a couple of days. “How’s your summer going? Did you manage to get some rest? If you are still planning to or if you are already back, our summer publishing contest is quite timely!”
Does he really care if I got some rest? And does he think I would continue the conversation with someone who has no clue whether I’m “still planning to” or “already back”?
Then there’s this one: “We are rapidly approaching the halfway mark of 2012, and what a busy year it has been! Here in London, we’ve already survived the treacherous rains during the Jubilee, and the Olympic madness is just around the corner.”
Don’t tell me what I know
Keeping in mind that I am plowing through at least 50 emails, why are you telling me that we’re halfway through 2012? I know. I also know about the rain and the Jubilee and Olympic madness. We get British news in Canada. Even if you were a distant relative, I would be getting impatient, waiting for you to ask whether your nephew could crash at my place in Toronto or some other point.
My point is that strangers should not pretend to be friends when they are phoning or emailing me. I won’t know if I’m interested in the content of their message until they get to the point. So hop to it, before I hang up the phone or close your email. Selling is not a dirty word, unless you pervert it with fake friendship.
The same goes for emails from friends. I like to know the point of the email right away. Is this a chain letter I don’t have to open? A funny video I will get back to when I need a break? An urgent request? An invitation to dinner? My smart friends put it in the subject line or first sentence, then ask me about my weekend or whatever later. Live conversation may follow, because we are already friends.
Not even Facebook friends
So, phone jockeys and email marketers and the people who write for them, please remember that we are not friends. Not even in the Facebook sense. You need to hook me in a few seconds by informing me of the point of your message and why I should care. You can communicate in a friendly style, but don’t pretend a mass email or phone campaign can create true friendships.
That is my point. What’s yours?
Toronto writer and trainer Barb Sawyers is the author of "Write Like You Talk Only Better," the secret to pulling ideas out of your head and onto the page. A version of this article first appeared on StickyCommunication.ca.