Don’t Let ‘Not a problem’ Become Your Small Business’ Problem

Good manners never go out of style

“It’s my pleasure.”

Those words cost nothing and they should be part of the DNA for any company. They should roll off the lips of retail and service industry employees automatically. And even in B2B settings, the sentiment they express should be part of all customer interactions.

You’ll hear these three words if you’re spending $500-plus a night at the Ritz-Carlton. You’ll also hear them if you buy a $5 chicken sandwich lunch at Chick-fil-A.

In my opening paragraph I used the word “automatically” and I think it’s the key to great customer service. However, not only should expressing something like, “It’s my pleasure” be automatic, anticipating the customer’s need should also be automatic. And to make it automatic, it must be made proactive. Let me give you an example.

I was in a well-known high-end restaurant not long ago and found myself in a situation where getting standard items like butter and a glass of water was like pulling teeth. Each time I asked for something, the waiter responded, “No problem.” Well, it might not have been a problem for the waiter, but it was becoming a problem for me, and other customers. This small situation illustrates two of the points I’d like to make.

First, the standard needs of the diners in this restaurant should always be anticipated. The wait staff is certainly in a position to proactively anticipate details like the need for water and butter. When customers have to make a specific request what should be standard, it degrades the experience.

But it can get much worse. Consider this: If customers have to ask for something, then on a certain percentage of those requests, the server is going to get distracted and forget. It’s just human nature. When that happens, the customer either asks again or just drops it. In either case, the customer is left with a bad impression – the kind of ill will that gets mentioned on review sites like Yelp.

The second point I’d like to make concerns manners and etiquette. “It’s my pleasure” is a phrase that works just as well at the Ritz as it does Chick-fil-A. “No problem” is not an equivalent phrase.

I understand – and welcome – the cordial familiarity we have in our country, but when you’re serving the public, you need to pattern your language in a way that is pleasing to people from all backgrounds and with a wide range of expectations. Further, it’s always good to think about what idioms like “No problem” truly mean in their literal sense.

Would my waiter have said, “It’s not a problem for me to get you a few pats of butter”? I hope not. He wasn’t being asked to jump through a flaming hoop. If he expected to get a good tip, getting the butter should not have only been “no problem” it should have been his “pleasure.”

I recently heard a waiter discuss how some of his customers once objected to his greeting. He said something like “Hi guys, I’m Charlie and I’ll be serving you.” The customers were all somewhat older women on this occasion, and they told him that they didn’t like being called “guys.” He realized that he needed to have a standard greeting that was polite, welcoming and suitable for virtually anyone.

The high level of courtesy that is the standard at Chick-fil-A is one of the reasons the chain has been so successful, and as I said at the opening – it doesn’t cost anything. Use this to your advantage: In an age where many of the traditional ways we express respect for one another are eroding, becoming known as the most respectful and courteous business in your industry could be the noticeable difference that sets you above the crowd.


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