Why “no problem” is

Have you ever interacted with someone in customer service and been put off by them? Usually it’s not something big like a rude response or offending smell. Often it isn’t something you can even clearly pinpoint, you just don’t like them for some reason. Or the thing you can point to is actually pretty minor, but you still make a decision not to buy.

customer service

When I ran a retail store the litany of things my staff could do to annoy customers seemed like an endless training nightmare. Don’t answer the phone that way, don’t say “Can I help you” (you don’t let your people do that right?,) don’t wear unprofessional clothes, don’t just hand change to the customer-count it back, don’t have dirty windows, don’t … well, you get the idea. A manager’s worst nightmare is the new person they hire that doesn’t have common “service” sense. It wasn’t until years later I finally figured out the key to training customer service.

In the end, teaching customer service really comes down to four words that staff need to know:

  1. It’s
  2. Not
  3. About
  4. You

Sometimes along the way we lose sight of the fact that to serve the customer we have to remember that it’s not about us. (Oh, and if you are only thinking about the customer that walks in the door, remember your boss, your co-worker, or that other department requesting information from you also qualify as customers.) A classic failure that you see heavily used in our society is the phrase “no problem.” You see, that phrase tells the customer that their request is no problem for you to handle. When did this become about you? The customer could care less if it was a huge problem for you, they just want their issue handled. By saying “no problem” the service person is putting the light on themselves. Some other phrases that similarly turn the spotlight on the staff member instead of the customer:

  • I’d be happy to do that for you
  • It would be my pleasure
  • I’m pleased to meet you
  • (Here’s one I found as a recommendation to say, but I disagree) The problem you conveyed is no more acceptable to us than it is to you
  • …and so on

The real key is to train staff to think, act, and do things with the customer’s ideas in mind. Let’s see how this applies practically:

  • we keep the store clean because customers don’t want to shop in a dirty environment
  • we have pleasant hold music and information because we’ve already begun to annoy the customer by using the hold button in the first place
  • we greet them so they feel welcome, but always in a way that keeps the spotlight on them
  • we generally don’t convey our own emotions because it is theirs we are concerned about
  • we count change back with all the money facing in the same direction so the customer has confidence in our accuracy and organization
  • we keep staff visible on the sales floor through placement and dress so customers can easily find help
  • we answer the phone rather than letting a machine do it for us
  • and of course, we never make any answer from a place of self focus (“sorry, I don’t have time to help you”)

Sam Walton once said “There is only one boss. The customer. And he can fire everybody in the company from the chairman on down, simply by spending his money somewhere else.”

And from Aristotle: “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”

Training staff to switch their mindset won’t happen overnight. My best advice is to get the team together and explain the focus shift, and then have everyone commit to helping each other. Trying to make this change alone can be difficult because the failures are often subtle.

Do you have other examples of wrong-focused customer service terms or practical ways that we stay customer-focused? Please share them in the comments below.

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