The Problem with ‘No Problem’

Awhile back I was at a restaurant. My food was served, but my allotted fork was dirty. I waited patiently for my server to return so I could request a new fork. Eventually, he returned and I made my request. Again, eventually he returned. When I said, “Thank you”, he said, “No problem”. The problem with ‘No problem’ is it creates a problem.

First of all, in the scenario I just outlined for you, there was a problem on my end. I was none to happy to have 1) a dirty utensil 2) to wait for a clean fork 3) to eat a cold meal and 4) the server’s job is to serve, so any request is never a problem. I felt as if I should be the one to apologize to him that my fork was dirty and he had to go all the way to the server station to get me a clean one. The nerve of me wanting to eat with a clean fork. When people are upset or if things don’t meet their level of expectation (don’t we all expect a clean fork in a restaurant?) it’s our job as business owners, representatives of an organization or even servers to convey concern and understanding. We care that your fork was dirty. We care that we didn’t meet your expectations. And empathy. We agree with you, a dirty fork is not acceptable. Next it is our job to fix the problem. Get the customer a clean fork- and hurry! Certainly we never want someone to think this level of quality is what they should expect from us. We should be almost embarrassed that a customer got a dirty fork. So it’s our job to make sure we let the customer know their experience is abnormal. We want them to come back, right? It’s much easier to keep customers we already have than to convert people to customers, so we definitely want them coming back. It’s our job to fix the problem and ensure it never happens again.

Second of all, the word ‘problem’ has a negative connotation. So in a situation where there was a problem, using the phrase ‘no problem’ doubles the existing problem. And in an instance where there is no problem, use of the phrase ‘no problem’ creates a thought that maybe there is a problem. It’s a little confusing, but a positive situation can be less positive when a negative is added. Dust off your math skills…. a positive plus a negative results in a lower number. 5 + (-3) is the same as 5-3=2. So if you have this really positive experience and then you add the negative phrase ‘no problem’ you lessen the strength of that positive experience.

Let’s consider another scenario… I had made my weekly trek to the grocery store -0ne of my least favorite tasks of the week- and I was checking out. Now let’s recap, I had to go to the grocery store. That’s one negative. I made the mistake of going later in the day so checking everything off my list involved dodging carts full of kids and aisles full of stocking carts. That’s two negatives. I had to wait in line. Three negatives. My bill was a couple hundred dollars. Four negatives. So I’m not in a ‘skip through the daisies’ kind of mood, but I’m not angry either. I’m just not my usual happy self. So I get through the ordeal and I pay my bill. The cashier hands me my receipt and my change. I say, ‘Thank you’ she says, ‘my pleasure’. My pleasure! Wow she’s actually happy to help me? She’s pleased to provide me with customer service? Suddenly my mood is lightened a bit. By using a positive phrase, by acknowledging her job is to provide customer service, she actually turned my day around. My pleasure. Love it.

In this age of entitlement that we live in, sometimes people forget that their job is to serve. They forget that they need to provide exceptional customer service. Take a minute with each customer contact to be positive, grateful and gracious. Customers are valuable and serving them is never a problem.