It’s a Problem, When You Say “No Problem"

A friend of mine implored me to write something about the use of the phrase “no problem.” She was the recipient of it at her dental appointment. Upon arriving at the dentist’s office, she was instructed to wait in her car until they were ready for her. Because it was hot outside, she started getting very uncomfortable and decided to go into the office before she was called. After explaining the reason for her early arrival, the receptionist stated, “No problem…” It was quite irritating to my friend that instead of hearing sympathy for having to sit in a hot car she felt brushed off with a slang phrase, as if her getting out of the heat could be a problem.

Why are we getting our panties in a bunch over a silly catchphrase? Because when it comes to customer service everything we do either strengthens or weakens our relationship with a customer or client. The receptionist was probably trying to reassure my friend that coming into the office before she had been called was okay given the heat, but it wasn’t conveyed well. Instead, she could have said, “I’m so sorry you had to sit in a hot car. Please make yourself comfortable while the hygienist gets ready for your appointment.” See how much more understanding and welcoming that is? I realize COVID protocol is dictating a lot of policy changes, but sometimes you need to bend the rules if the rule is going to endanger the customer.

The phrases “No problem” and “No worries” are also often used in reply to someone saying “Thank you.” Those words can be irritating to some people because it sounds as if you’re saying there’s no need to worry that I did a kind thing for you. When someone says “Thank you” say “You’re welcome” or “My pleasure.”

Here are some other phrases I cover in my Customer Service Excellence training that one should never use in a customer service situation.

You didn’t pay the bill on time.  

Customers are not always right but there is no need to point out that they are wrong. Rather than stating what the customer’s mistake was use passive language. Also avoid using “you” which puts people on the defensive. Say, “The bill wasn’t paid on time.” This takes the focus off the person and states simply what was wrong.

Our computers are slow today.

Your computers may very well be slow, but instead of pointing that out use the extra time to get to know your customer. You could ask how their day is going, what the weather is like where they are located or use the time to mention an applicable product or service that might benefit the customer. That might sound like this, “While this information is coming up would you like to hear about our auto loan special we’re currently offering?”

We can’t do that.

When the customer asks for something that you’re unable to do or give, offer an alternative. For instance, if a bank customer bounced a lot of checks and wants you to refund the fees, rather than saying, “We can’t do that” say, “I’m unable to reverse the fees, but what I can do is register you for our free money management class that’s coming up on… Would you like me to do that for you?”

Please hold.

If you have to put a customer on hold, always ask for permission rather than giving a command. Ask, “May I put you on hold for ten seconds while I look up that information?” Be sure to pause and allow the customer to respond before pushing the hold button.

I don’t know.

No one can be expected to know everything about the company and its products or services, but never leave a customer hanging without trying to help her. If you don’t know the answer to a question, be upfront and find a way to get the information. For example, “I’m not sure how much sugar is in our Grande Flippaccino, but let me look it up for you. I’ll just be a minute.”

These are a few of the customer service no no phrases I hear often. What are some that you find annoying?

Related: New Etiquette for the Going Back To Work