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The “No Problem” Problem

Words have both power and meaning. That is why it is important to choose the language that your customer service staff use. For example, people overuse the phrase "no problem" when they should be saying "thank you". Help your staff understand the difference between the two and how to use them appropriately.

I walk into the hotel, wheeling my luggage and briefcase behind me. I am taken aback by the spacious and open modern lobby. I approach the front desk, and Carlos greets me with a smile. We have a friendly exchange – how are you doing, did you have a good flight, how do you like our city – that kind of thing. I ask for a restaurant recommendation for dinner, and he tells me about a fascinating off-the-beaten-path bistro that has excellent reviews. I thank him, and he says, “No problem.”

And there it is. Hanging like a lead balloon. No problem.

What’s the problem with “no problem?” It’s an inherently negative response and, to certain people, off-putting. It has the potential to stagnate the conversation. Instead, offer up a polite and courteous, “you’re welcome.”

Here’s the problem with “no problem.” It assumes that I have a problem to begin with. That I come to you with something I need to have solved. That you are the answer to, well, my problem. Let’s make sure we’re on the same page. I didn’t come to you with a problem. I don’t have a problem.

Until we have a problem, save “no problem” for when we do have a problem. We have a problem when the toilet in my hotel bathroom doesn’t work. We have a problem when a $23 mini-bar charge for a beer and a candy bar shows up on my checkout bill, and I never partook of said goodies. We have a problem when you accidentally serve my dinner in my lap. When you resolve these issues, you may say “no problem,” however a “you’re welcome,” accompanied by a smile will do nicely.

Your customers don’t go through their days with service problems they need to have solved. The social construct we engage in is one of service, not problem-solving. Service is not a problem.

When I hear “no problem,” my mind goes to the negative. The word problem, used in a service context, sullies the exchange between us. One might go so far as to say that it creates an unnecessary power exchange. When you say “no problem” that puts you in a superior position to me, if you will. It’s as if you’ve swooped in to save the day by removing “a problem” from my life (mind you, a problem that doesn’t exist). Congratulations, you have elevated yourself to “hero” status.

I visit my favorite coffee shop and order a plain cup of coffee. “Room for cream?” the young barista asks. “Yes, thank you,” I reply. “No problem!” No, there is no problem. All I want is a simple cup of coffee. It’s not a problem that I want coffee. It’s not a problem that I want room for cream. When I say, “thank you,” say “you’re welcome.”

Bill Flanagan of MTV fame, shared his opinion about “no problem” on CBS Sunday Morning back in 2013. You can watch what Bill has to say at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n2E8wmUff5w. He observes that people born before 1980 use “no problem” to say, “you’re welcome.” Is this a generational thing? Bill thinks so. He says there are times when it’s permissible to use “no problem.” I agree. When there’s a problem.

Whether you agree or disagree with “no problem” and when it’s appropriate to use it, you are always safe with “you’re welcome.” “You’re welcome” is right in any situation that requires a response to “thank you.” If you’re interested in changing your “no problem” habit, put a rubber band around your wrist. Every time you think about saying or say, “no problem,” snap the rubber band.

Still not convinced? Use “no problem” for a week. The next week, say “thank you” exclusively. Compare your customer’s and client’s reactions. I’d love to hear you’re your experiences and observations. You’re welcome.

© 2019, Roger Wolkoff. Reprint rights granted so long as all URLs are made live.

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