First Name Basis

I saw an email recently that begin, “Dear <<Name>>”. Apparently the mail merge function wasn’t working properly, and instead of saying my name or the company name, it just gave the fill-in-the-blank. I know we all use form emails and mail merge functionality at some point in our careers, but I’ve found these tools to be a little risky, depending on the situation. I know the theory that says you should address people by their name, but I think it does more harm than good to call them by the wrong name. Prior to getting married, I booked an overseas trip with my family under my maiden name. I ended up getting married before we left for the trip, so my new husband joined the family for the trip. This was an unusually luxurious trip, as we were booked for First Class seating. Part of this luxury included flight attendants who learned your name and called you by name throughout the flight. Imagine the confusion when they learned my name as “Mrs. MaidenName”, instead of “Mrs. MarriedName”. Then I explained that I was married, and they started calling my husband “Mr. MaidenName”. It took several minutes to explain the names and why the name didn’t match the passport and ticket anymore. I was content to just be called “Ashley”, but they were insistent on using my “proper” title. Everyone in the situation laughed and took it in stride, but there are people out there who are genuinely offended when their name or title is used incorrectly. Good business says that you should know your customers and call them by name to solidify the relationship, and I completely agree that using someone’s name helps the business transaction. But, this means you must make sure that all the tools are used correctly to meet this goal. For this reason, I tend to stick with “Hello” at the top of an email to strangers, and “Ms.” or “Mr.” until told otherwise by a new associate.

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