Entering the customer’s domestic domain: Categorial systematics and the identification of ‘parties to a sale’

This paper showcases work in ‘categorial systematics’ (Stokoe, 2012) and the sequential analysis of categories in interaction, in the context of current developments in membership categorization analysis. It shows how, in a corpus of sales calls, categorial matters are initiated and managed as salespeople elicit information about prospective customers. In particular, our interest is in the turn design of sellers’ requests for names, and how men and women customers are asked for their titles (e.g., “is it miss, missus or ms?”). We show that these activities precipitate talk about the customers’ domestic domain regarding who comprises ‘the buyer’ within the membership categorization device ‘parties to a sale’. While such requests are apparently mandated by the company, they can produce turbulence as salespeople imply, or attempt to avoid implying, the nature of customers’ domestic relationships. The analysis also shows that and how such requests sustain the gendered nature of forms of address. We discuss the implications of the research findings for training salespeople to communicate more effectively with their customers.