Years back I remember visiting the coffee shop near my office and the woman behind the counter asked me where I worked. When I told her, she announced that she didn't like one of the women who worked in my business. She raved on for a few minutes until I stopped her, telling her politely that she was talking about my wife. I then walked out, never to return. Such a silly thing to do. She is entitled to her opinions, of course, but if she starts talking about someone from my office, there is a good chance that they are someone I like and respect.
Some sales representatives are like this as well. You meet them once and then they act is if they are your best friend. Over-familiarity can vary from annoying to downright scary. Your customers should set the familiarity boundary and this should always be honored and respected.
We need to be clear about what the boundaries are with our customers and we need to make sure our staff are aware of this as well. Inappropriate behavior can take many shapes and forms. There should be no areas of grey.
I used to dine at a particular restaurant on a fairly regular basis. They offered good food, at good prices, and the atmosphere was excellent for conducting business meetings over a meal. Over time, the staff, who were normally excellent, started to become far too familiar at inappropriate times. One time, I was discussing a new project with a prospective client. There were papers all over the table and we were talking quite intensely when the head waiter came over with a glass of wine. He sat down at our table and began to complain about how bad business was. What was worse, he wouldn't leave.
My prospective client was clearly perturbed by what was going on and kept looking at his watch. It was a very awkward situation. I finally had to ask the waiter to leave us as we had to talk business. He jumped up, slammed the chair into the table and stormed off in a huff. He virtually threw our meals at us and refused to acknowledge me as we left. The meeting was a disaster.
I understand that this waiter was probably only trying to be friendly, but he overstepped the boundaries in too many ways. As I was a regular, he assumed that we were becoming friends. At any other time, if I was by myself, I would gladly have had a chat. His actions during this meal, though, were completely inappropriate and I didn't go back to the restaurant for years.
I suggest that you think back to the times when you found yourself in a situation where a stranger was basically being overly familiar and how it made you feel. Then make certain that no one in your business falls into the same trap.
Monitor your staff and make sure that the boundaries aren't overstepped, particularly in a male-female encounter. There is nothing worse than a woman going into a shop and having to put up with male attendants checking her out or chatting her up. This is way out of line and absolutely no way to interact with a customer.
It's great to develop a friendly relationship with your customers, but there definitely have to be boundaries.