By Calvin Palmer
I went to pick my car from the dealership today; it had been in for a service and to get one or two other things fixed.
While being dealt with by the receptionist, the telephone rang.
She shouted through to a colleague hidden from view, “I am with a guest.”
“Are we having a party?” I inquired.
The receptionist smiled.
“What’s wrong with the word customer?” I asked. “It seems strange when there is a perfectly adequate word to describe my status, namely customer, someone has to come up with a totally inappropriate word. Customer, client, patron, any one of those would be applicable but not guest. I am not your guest.”
The receptionist once again smiled politely and went on to inform me that it was the idea of head office — Pearson Infiniti, of Richmond,Virginia, which owns several Infiniti dealerships, including the one on Atlantic Boulevard, Jacksonville.
The Concise Oxford Dictionary defines guest as:
Person invited to visit another’s house or have a meal etc at his expense; person lodging at hotel, boarding house, etc; occasional performer from outside regular company etc.
The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary defines guest as:
Person entertained in one’s house; a person to whom hospitality is extended; a person who pays for the services of an establishment (as a hotel or restaurant); a usually prominent person not a regular member of a cast or organization who appears in a program or performance.
So Pearson Infiniti appear to have usurped the third meaning given by Merriam-Webster. Perhaps Merriam-Webster should amend their definition to include car dealerships as well as hotels and restaurants.
But wait. If Pearson Infiniti have instructed all dealerships within their ownership to use guest rather than customer, why does the About Us section on its Web site read as follows:
Welcome to the Pearson Infiniti website. Our website is part of our ongoing efforts to offer our customers the most modern and convenient access to useful information and satisfying service. Our clients have high expectations for their vehicles, and equally high expectations about the dealership professionals who serve them.
Suddenly, guests have become, as they should be, customers and clients. And I am one client who has high expectations about the standard of English used by the dealership professionals. Does the use of “professionals” mean the dealership also has amateurs on its staff?
Under the title Contact Us, the drop-down menu features Customer Survey.
What has suddenly happened to guest? Perhaps the party is over and they have all gone home.
The Atlantic Infiniti dealership in Jacksonville may use guest to describe customers who step foot inside its premises but online is a different matter.
Its Web site features a number of sections one of which is labeled More Info. The drop-down menu features Support, which opens up to reveal its full title – Customer Support.
What happened to the guests?
The section goes on to say:
For us “customer service” means making your car buying experience as easy and enjoyable as possible. You’ll find a number of ways that we make customer service the basis of buying and owning a car from our Atlantic Infiniti.
It even goes on to describe the service department.
We offer all our customers who use our service department a comfortable waiting room, with TV, magazines and the best coffee in town.
But what do they offer their guests?
It grieves me to see words used incorrectly because for one thing, as a guest of Atlantic Infiniti Jacksonville, under the definition given by The Concise Oxford Dictionary, they should have paid the $1,000-plus bill for the service and repairs.