Never Say “No” to a Customer

From Company Guidelines, Principles, and Values:

Never say “No” to a customer.  “No” creates a communication barrier.  Always maintain a we-can-do-it-all atmosphere. Figure out a way to provide what the customer wants.

Similar to restauranteur Cameron Mitchell’s “The Answer is Yes. What’s the Question” policy.

Milkshake Story:
Mitchell was celebrating his son’s birthday at a restaurant. His son wants a chocolate milkshake so they ask the server for one. Server tells them that they don’t *offer* milkshakes.

Mitchell asks, “Do you have milk? Do you have chocolate ice cream? Do you have a blender? Well, you can make a chocolate milkshake.” The server asks the manager, but the answer is the same: no milkshake because it’s not on the menu.

The answer was “no” because the server and manager were obedient, not responsible (see Be responsible, not obedient policy).  They followed rules because they were afraid to make and to take responsibility for their mistakes.  As long as they follow the rules, they can blame someone else if the customer doesn’t have a good experience.

Ultimately, executive management is to blame for Mitchell’s bad experience.  They’re the ones who set company guidelines and policies and oversee training of floor staff.  Their leadership failed to give employees the confidence to be responsible and make thoughtful decisions.

Someone told Mitchell that the exact same thing had happened to him—at one of Mitchell’s own restaurants. That infuriated Mitchell. He has since made sure that every new employee hears the “Milkshake Story” first day of training. “We want our people to have the attitude, ‘The answer is yes. What’s the question?‘” he says. This simple philosophy is one of the reasons Mitchell’s restaurants take regular customers and turn them into raving fans.

Our “Say No to No” policy isn’t just about producing thoughtful and responsible employees, it’s about creating an atmosphere where customers feel like they can talk to and trust us.  Early on, we noticed many customers shutting down or becoming angry whenever we told them “no.”

New Customer: Do you have strawberries?
Obedient Employee: No, we don’t.
New Customer: Oh, ok.  Do you have blueberries?
Obedient Employee: Nope.
New Customer: Ok.  I’ll stop by some other time.

Versus responsible employee

New Customer: Do you have strawberries?
Responsible Employee: We’re seasonal so we’ll have them soon.  Are you looking for something fruity?
New Customer: Mmmm, yeah.
Responsible Employee:  Do you like mangoes because they smell and look great today?
New Customer: Yeah, I like mangoes.
Responsible Employee:  How about the Tropical Bugs bunny.  It has mangoes, pineapple, banana and a bit of carrot juice, which brings out the mango and pineapple flavors.
New Customer: Okay, I’ll take that.
Responsible Employee: How is it?
New Customer: So good.  Thank you!

Responsible employee has higher ask-to-talk ratio.  Asking questions invites customer to talk, to work with the barista to come up with something that will make her happy.  Another example:

Customer: Do you sell milkshakes?
Obedient: No, sorry.
Customer: Oh, ok.

versus responsible.

Customer: Do you sell milkshakes?
Responsible: We have something better and tastes just like it.  Would you like to try it?
Customer: What’s it called?  What’s in it?
Responsible: It’s an avocado milkshake.  It has avocado, peanut butter, some kale, and your choice of fruit — I recommend apple — and whey protein.  It tastes just like a milkshake but it’s so much healthier, guaranteed.
Customer: Hmmm, ok.  I’ll try it.
Responsible: Great…here you go.
Customer: Omigosh, it really is like a milkshake!  Thank you so much!!!

Responsible employee understands the customer isn’t ordering a milkshake, he’s asking for a feeling.  He wants something — taste, texture, maybe color — that will remind him of happy times, perhaps memorable childhood events.  The milkshake is irrelevant.  A good barista will be able to re-create the milkshake, give him the feeling he wants guilt-free.

It’s tough to get “no” out of our vocabulary.  We all still make the mistake of saying “no” to a customer.  But all employees know there are other, more positive ways, to say “no.”  It just requires some thought.

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