It happens all of the time. A customer makes some kind of special request. It’s not that it is all that special. It’s just not the norm. And, the first response from the employee is, “We can’t do that.”
My wife knows that I love pesto sauce. There is a restaurant in our area that has a delicious meal with pesto. However, their pesto is a creamy pesto sauce. We found out they make regular sauce and just add the cream to it before mixing it into the dish. So, one day my wife asks if they can leave out the cream. Their response, “Absolutely. Happy to do it.”
So, we’ve been ordering lunch from them, probably once or twice a month, for over a year. They have always been accommodating. Until today. When my wife placed the order for the pesto without cream, she heard those ugly four words: “We can’t do that.”
My wife’s response was, “We order it this way all of the time.” After putting her on hold for several minutes, the employee came back on and said, that they would do it. A happy ending, but still a flawed service experience.
What happened was that this was a fairly new employee. She had been trained to take an order, but not to be flexible and consider accommodating special requests.
What should have happened instead? Other than more training about the menu items, at least train the employee on how to respond when he or she doesn’t know what to do. Don’t just assume the answer is no and tell the customer, “We can’t do that.” Instead, ask the customer to hold a moment. Ask someone else, in this instance the manager or even the chef, and come back on and say, “Happy to do it. By the way, thanks for your patience. I’m fairly new and still learning.”
And, that is for the first time that the request is made. From that point forward, the employee now knows they can make pesto sauce without the cream. She (or he) should never have to put a customer on hold and ask that question again.
The lesson is simple: Teach employees to avoid the dreaded phrase, “We can’t (or won’t) do that.” And if an employee truly can’t do something, teach him or her how to properly break the news to the customer. There aren’t that many reasons to say “no” to a customer. You can be out of an item. It’s something you don’t do. It can be illegal, and you don’t want to break the law. Or, it can even be an unreasonable request that can’t be met.
Regardless of the reason, there are many things you can say instead of, “We can’t do that.” Imagine we asked for pesto sauce, with or without the cream, and the restaurant happened to be out of it – or never even had it on the menu at all. Rather than, “We can’t or won’t do that,” the employee could say, “We’re out of pesto sauce. I’m sorry about that, but you may love our marinara or meat sauce. Would you like to try that today?”
Now doesn’t that sound a lot better than, “We can’t do that”?
Shep Hyken is a customer service expert, keynote speaker and New York Times bestselling business author. For information contact or www.hyken.com. For information on The Customer Focus™ customer service training programs go to www.thecustomerfocus.com. Follow on Twitter: @Hyken
(Copyright © MMXVI, Shep Hyken)