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How To Say No

After writing about “Bad Rules,” I felt compelled to go further with the subject.  There is an old saying that says, “Rules are made to be broken.”

There are some management people out there that would say this doesn’t work in business.  They’re right – up to a point.  When it comes to customers, should there be rules?  Of course there should.  Some of them may favor the company and not the customer, and that’s okay. However, great companies know how to get around them.  For example, Outback Steakhouse has a slogan that is “No Rules – Just Right.”  Do you really think that Outback has given permission to employees to break all of the rules and policies of the company?  No!

My friend Jon DiJulius just wrote an article about Cameron Mitchell Restaurants that has a service promise that says, “The answer is yes.  Now, what’s the question?”  They have removed the word “No” from the vocabulary of their 2000 associates.  (By the way, I highly recommend Jon DiJuilius’ book titled “Secret Service.”)  How do they get around that?  Read on…

These companies have created a culture that looks for alternatives to rules and policies that could negatively impact the customer.  The key word in that last sentence is alternatives.  The good companies teach or train their employees on how to come up with alternatives to anything that might get in the way of taking care of the customer.  For example, a restaurant may be out of something.  Rather than just say we’re out, the server could suggest alternatives.   At that point, they may have to sell into the suggestion, but that is really what they should be doing anyway – especially if it is going to enhance the customer experience.

So, we’re trying to teach our employees to work around having to tell a customer anything they don’t want to hear.  This is about being flexible, which I’ve written about before.  But, now we approach it with a concept I term the service alternative, which is simply offering the customer an alternative that is acceptable and that may not just meet, but maybe even exceed the original expectations.  Getting there is not difficult. There are several questions to ask that will help get you the answer.

Is what the customer asking for really unreasonable?

Is what the customer asking for going to hurt the company in any way?

Will it compromise profit?

Is it illegal or will it cause harm to anybody?  (In this instance it is always
okay to say, “No!”)

What can I give the customer that is a reasonable substitute?

Will this substitute meet or even exceed the original expectations?

This is the thought process that creates a culture where you can avoid the word, “No.”  It is customer focused, versus company or operations focused.  Teach employees to ask themselves these questions.  Even better, have a meeting and create different scenarios that force a service alternative.  Brainstorm them.  Publish these as examples in the employee handbook as a guide and primer to having to deal with negative news for the customer.

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Shep Hyken, CSP, CPAE is a customer service expert, professional speaker and New York Times bestselling business author who helps companies develop loyal relationships with their customers and employees.  For more information on Shep’s speaking programs and learning products, please contact (314) 692-2200.

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