“No Problem” is a Problem


It’s the holiday season and you will be engaging more than usual with people who represent their company brands. They will be serving you a meal, ringing you up on the checkout line, increasing your credit card limit, or helping you find just the right present for someone special. And, at the end of that interaction, when you say thank you for their service, more than likely they will say, “No problem.”

“No problem?”

No. Problem. No. Problem. Two very negative words, yet when put together, becomes an acceptable and common response to a request or a completion of service. Is a double negative the best we can do when trying to deliver outstanding customer service?

I went into Starbucks a few years ago and ordered a latte. When the barista handed me my cup, I said thank you. She said, “No problem.” Being that I just handed her $5 for a cup of coffee, and it’s her job, one would think that “problem” wouldn’t even be in her professional vocabulary. I sat down at the table and opened my laptop to do some work for an hour, but I couldn’t focus because all I heard from that point on, as she engaged with other customers, was “no problem.” 46 times in an hour. I counted.

I was baffled, given that Starbucks prides itself on customer service and employee training. So, I searched for the emails of the Starbucks corporate executives and sent a group email titled “No problem is a problem.” I shared my experience as well as my brand loyalty, and to my amazement, the head of global operations wrote me back within an hour, on a Sunday. He agreed that even with all of their training, “no problem” is a common response in customer service. And, not just a millennial issue, either. It’s a people issue. They are still working on it, like most companies who care about their brand, because they know words matter to customers.

It’s not just Starbucks. It’s everywhere. Airlines. Automotive. Healthcare. Retail. Restaurants. Everywhere.

In a world where the only differentiation of similar companies, services and products is the service itself, why don’t more companies invest in customer service; specifically, customer communication. Think about it. You’ve just ended a wonderful interaction with a customer where they say “thank you”. You could say “You’re welcome” or “happy to help,” or any other positive response to further cement the bond with the customer. But, you end the interaction with the words “no” and “problem.” You just brought double negativity into an otherwise positive experience.

You may not think it’s a big deal, but companies like the Ritz-Carlton and Chick-fil-A, invest time and money to teach their staff the value of the “My Pleasure” principle.

“Thank you very much.”

“My pleasure.”

“Can you help me?”

“My pleasure.”

Can I get some more water, please?”

“My pleasure.”

Is it really your pleasure to pour someone a glass of water? Well, if it’s really your job to create a complete experience for a customer, then yes, it should be your pleasure. It’s why my wife shops at Nordstrom and why we made sure Victoria was always working at our local Verizon store before we went in for the iPhone upgrades. Helping us was always her pleasure and we responded with our loyal business, as well as the referred business of our friends and family.

You should view every interaction with a customer as a chance to enhance both your brand and the company brand by creating a positive experience.

If everyone else is saying, “no problem,” imagine how much you will differentiate yourself and your business when you end all of your service interactions with a positive phrase that makes your customer feel good. “My pleasure” may not work for you, so come up with your own positive language. Make it your “signature sign-off” in your interactions, and even your emails. I tend to use “Happy to Help” most often.

By the way, the head of global operations at Starbucks sent me $50 worth of coffee as a thank you for bringing the “no problem” problem to his attention. Unfortunately, it’s years later, and my barista still tells me that getting a coffee for me is “no problem.” It’s a good thing I am brand loyal to the product because if the experience was the only differentiator, I’d probably be looking for another brand.

I’ve changed doctors because of the nasty receptionist. I’ve changed car brands because of the service representative. I want the total experience, and so do most customers. Companies and businesses gain or lose valuable customers every day because when the product is a commodity that you can get anywhere, the true differentiators are the people who represent the brand with every action, and every word.

Stand for Your Brand,

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