The Answer’s Yes…What’s the Question?

IStock 636202058, The DiJulius GroupMany times, yes is the answer to a customer. Other times, rather than a flat-out no, the answer can offer an alternate version of what the customer needs or wants.

I hate the word no. I truly do. I can’t believe how many people, in a vast number of companies, use it. It should be stricken from every business’s vocabulary. An answer of “No” is code for, “I am lazy and do not want to try to figure out alternatives to what you are asking for”. Not exactly a key to success.

Whenever a customer approaches one of my employees, before they even say a word to my employee, I want my employee to say “Yes.” Just say yes before a customer can ask you something. Automatic responses may range from mild surprise to outright shock, but your own employees will figure out a way to fulfill the requests. Typically, customers are not going to ask them for something unreasonable. Also typically, it’s not that difficult to make a customer happy.

While staying in a prominent hotel in Las Vegas, I ordered room service. When asked if I wanted fries or coleslaw as my side, I asked if I could have a side of fruit. The person’s response was quick and unfriendly, “No! Do you want fries or coleslaw?” What type of question was this?! I replied, “What do you mean, no? I see a fruit dish on your menu.” And she responded, “Well, I would have to charge you.” I responded with, “I wasn’t asking for it for free.” Talk about an example of negative service. This team member forgot they were in the business of hospitality. How easy it would have been to say, “Certainly, while you cannot substitute the fruit for your side dish, I can add it to your order.”

For me, a simple answer offering an alternative or variation would have changed Hotel Impossible into one practically guaranteeing my customer satisfaction. In general, more frequent positive interactions would invite good customer reviews directly reflecting upon that hotel and potentially, impacting other hotel locations.

Happiness is a Milkshake: Businesses Getting Customer Experience Right

Unnamed 4, The DiJulius GroupCameron Mitchell Restaurants, a restaurant group headquartered in Columbus, Ohio, has extremely effective leaders who have built an amazing reputation in the hospitality industry. Decades ago, Cameron Mitchell not only removed the word no from the vocabulary of its thousands of associates; it also created a great service brand promise: “Yes is the answer . . . what’s the question?” This is not just lip service. Nearly everyone in this company walks this talk. This company has created such a strong above-and-beyond legacy that nearly all its employees try to outdo each other daily with unconventional ways they can exceed their guests’ expectations and continually offer a world-class customer experience.

IStock 1354381898 300x200 1, The DiJulius GroupCameron Mitchell himself created a brilliant metaphor on which the company’s service philosophy is founded. It is known as the “Milkshake.” Legend has it that a long time ago, Mitchell and his family were customers themselves at a restaurant, and his young son at the time, asked if he could have a milkshake. The server said, “No.” There’s that word again. Mitchell knew the restaurant had ice cream, milk, and a blender, and he couldn’t understand why someone wouldn’t accommodate a guest on such a simple thing. So, the milkshake became an icon to remind everyone at Cameron Mitchell Restaurants about finding a way to say “Yes”. This brilliant approach leads to customer service excellence and legendary service disguised as sweet hospitality.

Having three boys myself, I can’t tell you how many times this exact scenario has happened to me. Similarly, more than a few times we have been in a restaurant where one of my sons didn’t like anything on the kid’s menu and asked if he could have a grilled cheese sandwich. Again, nearly every time the answer was “No”. Once I asked the waiter, “Do you mean to tell me that your restaurant doesn’t have bread and cheese that someone could throw on a stove?” The waiter responded, “Yeah, but I wouldn’t even know how to ring it up.” To which I replied, “I don’t care if you charge me the price of a steak. You don’t want my kid upset because he can empty this restaurant faster than a fire can!”

The off-menu grilled cheese really should be in every restaurant’s secret service book.

*Related – Never use the word “No” Always focus on what you can do

Back to that milkshake, which has developed a life of its own at Cameron Mitchell Restaurants. The company does an incredible job of creating perpetual awareness of what the milkshake represents. They start every company meeting with a “milkshake toast,” and they give a Milkshake Award to the associates who best demonstrate the spirit of their Service Brand Promise, “Yes is the answer . . . what’s the question?” In any of their locations, you are likely to see several associates wearing milkshake pins and milkshake icons on posters and pictures. Outback Steakhouse’s original Service Brand Promise was similar: “No Rules, Just Right.”

Learning from Cameron Mitchell Restaurants, we have adopted the same philosophy at my first business, John Robert’s Spa. The word “No” is like a foul four-letter word and has no place in our culture of customer service. The point of this philosophy is that too many employees and companies say it way too quickly without considering how easy it would be to grant the customer’s wish. Many times, it is blamed on company policy. Yet many times, it can be just plain laziness on the part of the front-line employee or the manager.

Focus on What You Can Do, Not What You Can’t Do

The best customer experience brands guide their employees during customer service training on how to not say “No” in situations where they cannot say “Yes.” We can’t always say “Yes,” but the word “No” should never be used. There are nearly always other response options. If a customer wants something that isn’t possible, instead of telling the customer what we can’t do, we tell her what we can do. For instance, at John Robert’s Spa, if a guest arrives extremely late for an appointment and asks if we can still accommodate her, our guest care team is trained to respond, “While we cannot perform a full pedicure, we can do an express pedicure.” Or we may offer an alternative service provider.

In implementing this, first consider all the common situations that may arise in which it’s difficult for you to say yes to a customer, then work on creative alternatives in response to each. You are training your employees to make your customers feel that their request was granted, a positive outcome in contrast to a situation like my side-of-fruit dilemma. The second exercise is to create a metaphor or icon similar to the milkshake and then advertise it constantly to your entire organization on a daily basis in many ways, including recognition, signage, and awards. Empower everyone in your company to do whatever it takes to deliver genuine hospitality and make customers happy.

Here are Seth Godin’s thoughts on saying yes: “Yes is an opportunity and yes is an obligation. The closer we get to people who are confronting the resistance on their way to making a ruckus, the more they let us in, and the greater our obligation is to focus on the yes. There will always be a surplus of people eager to criticize, nitpick, or recommend caution. Your job, at least right now, is to reinforce the power of the yes.”

The Anti-No Zone

My employees don’t need to ask permission to do anything for a customer except using the word “No.” And to my knowledge, we have never given permission. It doesn’t mean everything is a yes, but no is the word heard most often in business. Train your employees to eliminate it, treat it like a swear word, and focus on alternatives. An article titled Stop Trying to Delight Your Customers which appeared in the Harvard Business Review demonstrates the power of removing the word no from your company’s vocabulary. Ameriprise Financial asked its customer service reps to capture every instance in which they were forced to tell a customer no. While auditing the no’s, the company found many dated policies that had been outmoded by regulatory changes, or systems, or process improvements. During its first year of “capturing the, no’s,” Ameriprise modified or eliminated twenty-six policies.

It has since expanded the program by asking frontline reps to come up with other process efficiencies, generating $1.2 million in savings as a result. It is worth considering what type of internal survey or audit might bring your own company’s policies up to date and potentially make a significant impact on your bottom line.

How hard do you make it for your customers to get issues resolved?

A study from the HBR article shows the level of frustration customers have to go through when trying to solve a problem:

  • 56 percent report having to re-explain an issue.
  • 57 percent report having to switch from the web to the phone to solve a problem.
  • 59 percent report expending moderate to high effort to resolve an issue.
  • 59 percent report being transferred.
  • 62 percent report having to repeatedly contact the company to resolve an issue.

The “Ask Once” Promise

Another great example from HBR explains how some companies are making a low effort by the customer the cornerstone of their service value proposition. South Africa’s Nedbank instituted an “Ask Once” promise, which guarantees that the rep who picks up the phone will own the customer’s issue from start to finish.

The immediate mission is clear for those aspiring to become legendary leaders: in addition to finding ways to tell customers yes or at the very least offer an alternative to no, leadership must train frontline employees on mitigating disloyalty by reducing the effort customers must make, and both themes must become part of companies’ customer service vision statements.

*Register for our New Customer Experience Executive Academy Class starting this fall


SAL, The DiJulius GroupWe are so thrilled to announce that Sal Valentinetti will be speaking at this year’s Customer Service Revolution. Sal Valentinetti is a crooner from Long Island, New York. From starting out delivering pizzas to selling out shows across the country – his career continues to grow. In 2016, NBC’s hit show America’s Got Talent was taken by storm by Sal “The Voice” Valentinetti. His audition went viral and reached over 100 million views on YouTube. The then 20-year-old college student was now in the global spotlight. After belting out the classic Frank Sinatra hit, “My Way,” Sal not only received a standing ovation from the audience but was awarded the coveted “Golden Buzzer” from supermodel judge, Heidi Klum.

Watch when Sal received the Golden Buzzer from Heidi Klum:

EPISODE 089 of the CSRevolution Podcast: Creating a Culture that Attracts and Keeps the Best Talent


“The human spirit can’t be separated from human transactions and interactions—nor should it be. Customers do not want their lives filled with endless robotic encounters. As automated transactions become faster, easier, and more reliable, making the human connection will become increasingly rare—and therefore increasingly more valuable.”   – Richard Shapiro

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About The Author

John DiJulius

John R. DiJulius is a best-selling author, consultant, keynote speaker and President of The DiJulius Group, the leading Customer experience consulting firm in the nation. He blogs on Customer experience trends and best practices.