There’s a lot of talk about going the extra mile to keep customers happy. But is there a point where the extra mile is going too far? Is there ever a point where you should just say “No?”
Lucky for you, I watch, er, I mean, my kids watch SpongeBob, and I can bring his perspective into my blog!
There’s an episode of SpongeBob where Mr. Krabs turns the Krusty Krab into a hotel called Krusty Towers, an expensive hotel where the motto is “We will never deny a guest even the most ridiculous request.” The motto was borrowed from a hotel he stayed at while on vacation; this is also where he learned that the hotel business is quite the lucrative business. (And if you know Mr. Krabs, he is all about money!)
No surprise here. During the episode, guests asked for things that were quite ridiculous, and Mr. Krabs obliged. The final request is the downfall of the hotel: a customer asks for the outdoor pool to be moved into his room; a sequence of events occurs, and the hotel is destroyed.
Why do I call out this completely unrealistic story/cartoon? To make a point, of course. Actually, two points. First, deliver on your promise. That’s a no-brainer. But if your promise is to your company’s detriment, then it might be time to re-evaluate your promise. Second, there are times when we need to say “No.” There are times when we need to tell customers what they don’t want to hear. There are times that saying “Yes” could lead to the downfall of the customer experience, which in turn will lead to the downfall of your business. There are times when “No” is the right answer.
Why? It’s called “honesty.” If customers hear you say “Yes” and “No” at appropriate times, that’s believable, and it’s real. It leads to trust.
I love it when a good story comes together, quite unintentionally. I already knew I’d be blogging on this topic today, as I try to plan ahead as much as I can. Last Friday, an old episode of Undercover Boss happened to be on, and as the episode unfolded, I was quite happy to realize that it was going to tie in nicely with my post today. The episode was about Diamond Resorts International’s CEO Stephen J. Cloobeck. I won’t go into the details of the episode but will bring up one scenario to make a point.
But first, Diamond Resorts (a timeshare/vacation ownership business) has a mantra, or a promise, they live by: The Meaning of Yes. There are a couple of things behind this promise, which is their commitment to a branded hospitality experience. What does that mean?
- Consistency: Regardless of the location, you will always have the same experience. The service, the quality of the grounds and amenities, etc. It will be the same from one to the next. It also means that when you call to book a stay, you will receive the same excellent service by phone. So it also means consistency across channels.
- Culture of Service Excellence: Their employees are reliable and responsive, committed to exceeding customer expectations, dedicated to maintaining a professional attitude, and determined to build trust-based relationships.
I love it. This is all great stuff for those of us who live and breathe customer experience! But what about the “Yes?” Their website doesn’t really speak specifically about “Yes,” but I got some insights from the episode as well as from this video I found of Stephen’s discussion with Frank Luntz during a Milken Institute event. (By the way, it’s a great interview/forum; I would highly recommend that you watch it, if you have a spare hour.)
So, a little about the “Yes.” Here’s Stephen J. Cloobeck’s philosophy and his approach to a culture of “Yes.”
When a guest approaches an employee, he wants his employees to say “Yes,” even before the guests open their mouths to ask their questions or make requests. He believes that guests aren’t going to ask for something ridiculous, like moving a pool from outside to inside, but that they will have reasonable requests, requests that employees need to fulfill in order for guests to have the best experience. And, his words: You have to smile when you say “Yes.” It’s hard not to smile when you say, “Yes.”
He would probably love this quote from Eleanor Roosevelt: “Never allow a person to tell you ‘No’ who doesn’t have the power to say ‘Yes.’”
OK, so that takes me to the point where I wrap this up with the moral of my story.
We all know that overbooking happens much too frequently in the travel industry. It’s a problem. It happens for the airlines, but it also happens with hotels. One of the scenarios in the Undercover Boss episode had Stephen working at the front desk (right next to a picture of himself on the wall!) with an employee who was passionate about her work and passionate about saying “Yes” to her guests. The thing she hated, though, is that her hotel is often overbooked, which means she then has the responsibility of telling guests “No.” Actually, she ends up making up a story as to why a room isn’t available. Of course, this doesn’t sit well with guests, and it didn’t sit well with Stephen.
Somewhere along the customer journey, someone (probably several someones) said “Yes” and shouldn’t have. (Yes, I understand, sort of, why the travel industry overbooks, but they gamble for their interests and their shareholders’ interests, not for the customers’ interests.)
So it’s not always good to say “Yes.” If it’s not in your customers’ best interests or if it’s not consistent with delivering an exceptional experience, then you need to say “No.”
“A ‘No’ uttered from the deepest conviction is better than a ‘Yes’ merely uttered to please, or worse, to avoid trouble.” -Mahatma Gandhi
Love the SpongeBob reference, Annette. My 14-year-old son was with me when I was reading your post, and I started describing the episode you reference. He's no longer an avid SpongeBob watcher but remembers this episode well and the mayhem that ensues when the pool is installed, apparently on one of the higher levels of Krusty Towers.
The whole question of telling a customer No is an interesting one. It seems unrealistic and not very prudent to have a policy of never telling the customer No. The trick is in how to do it in a manner that still allows you to optimize the customer's experience. We may not be able to make that customer a promoter, but if we can at least apply the skill to avoid creating a detractor, then we've accomplished something.
My partner Jack had some fun creating a video blog about this very question [http://www.pretiumsolutions.com/2012/02/how-to-tell-a-customer-no-communication-customers-service-skills/]. Focusing on what you CAN do for the customer, as opposed to what you CANNOT, is one way to approach it.
Thanks for sharing yet another great post!
One of Your Friends @ Pretium Solutions,
Scott, thanks for reading and for commenting. I love that your son remembers that episode!
I agree with your point… if you have to say "No," acknowledge that you can't do whatever it is and why, apologize/empathize, and focus on what you can do.
Thanks for sharing the link to the video, as well. It's a great complement to this post! Demonstrates the nuances of saying "No."