Charles Howden

November 5, 2006

Which would you rather hear?

Filed under: Customer Service — Charles @ 9:17 pm

Do you ever shop in the Co-op? If you do you may remember being asked, by the checkout assistant at the till, “share number?” and if you are not a regular customer of the Co-op, you may have been a bit confused by the question. Yes, the Co-op is, as the name more than suggests, a co-operative venture founded and run to share the benefits of its trading with its members. This it does each year by dispersing a share of its profits to those customers who have joined it as a member. The more you pay, the more you receive back as a dividend, a delightfully laudable principal and I wish it well.

When I shop in the Co-op, as a non-member, as a I approach the till, I am already anticipating the question, “share number?” to which I reply “no”, or “I don’t”, however I phrase it, it is still a “no”. And my point is, as any salesman, account handler, will tell you, No is not a word that any business should purposefully elicit from their customer. I don’t know how you experience it but when I am asked for my share number and have to answer with a muted, almost embarrassed “no” I feel cut off, deficient, left out. For sure I could get a share number, but hey, I only went onto the shop for a loaf of bread, yet I as a customer, am left feeling this negative state.

Salesman everywhere will know about the power of the “yes-set”. Never ask a question that you need a positive answer to, a “yes”, if your potential customer has just either said or is likely to be thinking a “no”. It is the oldest trick in the sales book, start the customer building agreement with you, the yes set, before popping the closing question.

No Problem. When I am negotiating arrangements with a supplier, or anyone come to that, I do not like to hear “no”, I certainly do want to hear about “problems”. Yet this expression is supposed to make me feel reassured, except that it doesn’t. From my negative state brought on by the disagreement “no” set, all I hear is problems…

The reason for this is that the brain does not recognise the “no”, all it hears is “problem”. It’s like the words of encouragement “don’t slip”, the mind hears “slip” and the body follows the command. Or in the golfing world, “don’t hit the water” (thank you I hadn’t even seen it until you just drew my attention to it) followed by a splash.

As a side issue, I have noticed that when people get used to saying “no problem” it can quickly fall into their regular language. If I hear one, I’ll bet I hear half a dozen before I have concluded a transaction.

And my point is? My point is that if you are in business the last thing you should be doing is planting disagreement in your customers’ minds. There is usually plenty of difficult stuff to negotiate around without bringing it on with sloppy use of language. What would I rather hear? Variations on the “yes” theme: can do, OK, love to, easy. Feel free to regard these as cheesy lines, in many situations they are, except when I want to get something done. Which would you rather hear?

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