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Never start a sentence with a customer with “No”

I had an experience last weekend that unfortunately is typical in the world of customer service these days.  My wife and I volunteered to buy movie tickets for my son’s class for students who excelled in math this year.  His teacher told us that the movie theater will only sell gift cards for $15 or more, but she had spoken to the theater and arranged a way to put $7.50 on each card.

We went to the theatre and I approached the box office and there was a man behind the counter and he asked, “Can I help you”.  I told him I would like to purchase 5 gift cards with $7.50 each.  He told me that he couldn’t do that and that he could only put $15 or more on a card.   I explained that I was buying tickets for students at Willowcreek school and it has been arranged for me to be able to purchase gift cards for less that the $15 minimum.

This is where I get frustrated.  He told me, that he physically cannot put less than $15 on the gift card and, in a bold move, invited me to the other side of the counter to see the computer screen so he could show me that he was right and I was wrong.  There is so much wrong with that response.  The proper response to me would have been, “Oh, I wasn’t aware of that arrangement.  Let me get my manager over her and see what we can do to help you.”

At that point it was clear I wasn’t going to get any further with him, so I sought out a manager.  I explained my issue.  I did not run the guy under the bus.  In about 4 minutes, I had 5, $7.50 gift cards in my hand that were run right from the terminal that absolutely could not do that.

So what happened here.  There could be about 5 things that are wrong.

  1. You could say this was a communication breakdown between management and employee and you would be correct.
  2.  It was absolutely an attitude problem.  A blatant unwillingness to not even TRY to help a customer can be a big problem for every business.  Customers want to go to businesses where they know there is at least a CHANCE of being supported or assisted.  Being told “No” or “I can’t help you”  without seeking help from a manager or supervisor is the worst for a customer.
  3. It’s a culture problem.  This is dangerous for a business when one, dominant employee can influence their peers to be negative day in and day out.
  4.  It could just be a rogue employee who has had enough working with the public.
  5. Best case, is it is an employee having a bad day.

I work in a very small office and can hear just about every conversation that happens between my employees and my customers.  I have had employees in the past who were unwilling to help customers to the level I expect.  There are times, that we do know the answer to question.  An example, is when a customer calls and pays late.  They ask if we can waive the late fee.  My office cannot waive fees. It has to be done through the billing department.  Can we call the billing department and make a strong case to help the client out?  Absolutely.

The tough one for my office is claims.  Insurance can be complicated and I get calls regularly asking if certain events are covered by their insurance.  I learned the hard way, that I should absolutely not tell a client if I think a claim is covered.  There is nothing worse than assuring a client that their car is going to be fixed and then having a claims adjuster tell the client it won’t be.  I was able to fix that actually get the claim covered but I learned my lesson.

I tell my clients things like, “I have seen claims like these covered before”, or “I have yet to see a claim like this covered”.  I always let them know that we can go through the process and offer to assist them through it.

If the first thing you are going to tell a client after an inquiry is “No”, I believe you are missing a step or two.  Your client needs to know that you are going to try and help them.  You are going to fight for them.  That you are on their side.  Even if you know for sure, that the answer is no, they need to know why and they need to know that you tried.

Things change in companies too.  Things that were once “no’s” are now “it depends” or even “yes’s”.  Companies like people are flawed.  People come and go from inside of companies.  Some policies and procedures are terrible and get fixed in time and you never know until you ask.  Keep asking for your clients, and please, don’t ever start a sentence with “No”.

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  1. Matt,
    Excellent piece and everything you say is so true. More businesses need to help their employees understand what their attitude/words mean and how they come across! Looking forward to the next piece.
    Richard