Few things burn me more than the telephone solicitor who calls me "Paul" in his first sentence. I was raised to call people by their last names until asked to do otherwise, out of respect for them, and I still do.

I also resent it when I call some banker or businessman and say to the secretary, "This is Paul Nadler calling," and she responds:

"Paul, can you hold?" or "Paul, he's not here now."

And when I am called by the first name by an associate or assistant I do not know, I blame the party I am calling for not having trained the subordinate to be polite.

I don't think I am alone in this. Many people feel this is the second- worst telephone gaffe they face. (The worst is when the person who wants to talk to you has his secretary call and say "Please hold for Mr. Jones.")

If Mr. Jones wants to talk to me, he should value my time as much as his own and not have me hold until he is ready to talk.

In all my years of teaching, I have never called a student by his or her first name until after graduation, out of respect for our university. I feel it shows that we are professionals seeking the same goal, not superior (Dr. Nadler or Mr. Nadler) and subordinate (Suzy or Ken).

Rude behavior reflects on the officer, not just on the secretary, subordinate, or other person who handles the phones. And if an officer does not realize how associates act on his behalf and how this reflects on the bank, he or she is as guilty as the secretary.

In the same regard, I think a lot of people agree with me that when a bank has "dress-down" days, it hurts the bank's image.

There is a reason why bankers come to work looking ready for a social function or a major meeting. Customers feel a lot better about having their money in that bank when the bankers look responsible and serious.

What if you came into the bank, and the bank officer was sitting in slacks and T-shirt with feet up on the desk and asked, "What do you want?"

My answer would be "a withdrawal slip."

We all know that dress-down days have become a fringe benefit that employees enjoy a great deal.

And I would be the first to favor dressing down every day for people who never have face-to-face contact with customers. I always wonder why Wall Street people who spend their entire day on the phone and sometimes never see a customer in person still dress every day like they are going to their own wedding.

But as for bank platform officers, tellers, and others who face the public, I am unhappy when I see them in T-shirts.

A lot of things make up a bank's image. But the actions, smarts, politeness, and look of the contact people top the list.

My vote: No dress-down days for contact people in banking.

What's yours?

Send your views to Paul Nadler, 14 Friar Tuck Circle, Summit, N.J. 07901, or fax them to (908) 273-7309.

As regular readers of this column know, the person with the best answer will win the presidency of Schmidlap National Bank for a day, and a certificate to prove it.

Subscribe Now

Access to authoritative analysis and perspective and our data-driven report series.

14-Day Free Trial

No credit card required. Complete access to articles, breaking news and industry data.