When "No Problem" Is a Problem

You should be alarmed by what is being said and by what passes as customer service. The ability to speak in a way that matters and inspires is at the core of brand leadership. This is true for senior executives, and it is equally true for frontline service providers.

Recently in a nationally branded store, I asked for help in finding a particular item. Here's what happened:

Employee: That's over here.

She turned with a half smile and walked me over to the section.

Me: There it is. Great. Thank you.

Employee, as she turned away: No problem.

But it is a problem. If you lead a business, why should this phrase trouble you?

The design of the store and its brand promises engagement and special attention. The stale "No problem" cedes control of the moment. I can interpret her response in various ways, most of which are negative. These might be:

Glad I am done with you.

My interest is elsewhere.

I've got real problems, and you are nothing at all to me.

Cursory speech limits the interaction and stifles the possibilities. Multiply this lost opportunity by countless service interactions, and the drift away from your brand's aspiration becomes a monumental disadvantage in a world full of choice.

"No problem" is a common phrase; you might think that simply prohibiting such phrases would address this issue. Medium and large businesses often ask team members to follow procedures that restrict what they may say in their conversations with customers. But customers sense the emptiness of scripted language, and the lack of substance renders the words ineffective. Because the quality of service interactions can increase pricing power or market share, the implementation of such protocols is a waste of time and resources.

In addition to injecting dead language into interactions, these procedures inhibit employees from thinking about how speaking matters, even for casual greetings and farewells.
Stale phrases are conspicuous and can damage brands, especially in upscale environments.

My pleasure, my pleasure, my pleasure repeated by employees in luxury hotels.

OK, yeah, sure spoken by salespeople at dealerships selling elite European cars.

Excellent mouthed by waiters in expensive restaurants while they gaze at other tables.

Instead of stilted language and hackneyed phrases, go bold. Encourage your employees to enter the flow of a customer's world, to notice things that may seem unimportant but might be significant, and then to speak--this one step makes a real difference.

To replace thoughtless, robotic interactions, try these steps:

1. Communicate an inspiring brand promise at every level in your company and revitalize the
understanding of this promise frequently.

2. Support your brand promise with a limited number of crucial service standards, but ensure that these are directional rather than directive in nature.

3. Provide rigorous training to reduce the time, and ease the stress, of transactions so that frontline representatives can focus on the moment.

4. Build trust that

• encourages employees to be curious about your customers.
• enables the leap from curiosity to genuine engagement.
• motivates your team to care about what customers do (and do not) value.

What really happens if you free the moment and enable your direct customer-contact representatives to engage, think, and carefully choose responses?

Recently, my team and I helped with the development of the service culture and brand for a $500-million resort. Service culture development is based on engaging with customers, making inspired choices, and communicating in authentic language. We concentrated on choosing words that are lively and appropriate for the customer, the moment, and the brand. The result? Three years later, according to nearly all industry measures, it is the most successful new large resort in North America.

When you engage with a customer, do your words serve your brand well? Or are you strangling authentic language to enforce consistency and thus, unwittingly, undermining your power? In a world with a surplus of consumer choices, scripted language is a strategy that no longer works.

Customers faced with a world of choice crave genuine experiences from engaged providers, so attuned to the possibility inherent in the moment that no one can produce magic the way they and their brand can. Cultivating an unscripted mind enables us to respond to situations with openness, fresh ideas, and joy.

What expressions are driving your customers away?

For more information please go to http://www.c3corp.com/library/ and download the Speaking Matters series.