The Power Of “Yes”

Huey Lewis and The News had a hit song in 1985 called “The Power Of Love”.  The opening lyrics are, “The power of love is a curios thing, make one man weep, make another man sing”.  One could make the same claim about the power of “yes”.  Yes is such a powerful word.

In 1966 John Lennon met Yoko Ono and attended one of her art exhibits in London.   In one exhibit viewers had to climb up a white ladder in the center of the room,  from where a magnifying glass hanging from the ceiling allowed them to view the word “YES” written in tiny letters on a framed piece of paper affixed to the ceiling.   Years later John recalled his experience of nervously climbing up the ladder and not knowing what to expect.  He said he felt relieved after looking through the magnifying glass to see the word “yes”.  After all,  it could have said “no”,  or “your a bad person”, or something far less positive or discouraging.

Yes is such a powerful word.   Why more merchants and service providers don’t seize the power of yes to create positive and memorable service experiences for their customers escapes me.

I was in two well-known department stores today.  One was a “Yes” store (Nordstroms) and and one was a “No” store (Macy’s).  I was in these stores for similar purposes – to follow up on recent clothing purchases.

My first stop was at the “No” store to bring a suit in for alterations.    The experience of purchasing the suit from the “No” store was pleasant enough except that there was not a tailor to measure alterations.   He was out of the country and would not return for three weeks.  I asked the sales clerk if there was another tailor that could be available sooner and the answer was a simple “no”.  The first of many to come….

So rather than pay for alterations somewhere else I waited the three weeks.  I went back to the No store, the tailor measured and I was on my way, right? No.  The tailor escorted me to the cash register and the clerk rang me up for $70.00.  I told the clerk that the salesperson had told me alterations were included in the price of the suit.  The clerk looked panicked when I asked if he could resolve this and said, “no”, I have to call for a manager”.  The manager arrived to tell me that “no, alternations are not included”. She went on to cite a number of internal policies and constraints that precluded her from making an exception and told me I would have to speak with another manager who was not available but could call me later.

I left the No store and proceeded to the Yes store to see about returning a shirt that I purchased a couple of months ago.  The shirt never fit right.   I had worn the shirt a couple of times, had it dry cleaned, and had no receipt.  It was (coincidentally) a $70.00 shirt that I would never wear again so I thought I would see if the Yes store would accommodate me in some way.

When I approached a salesperson and explained my situation he said, “Yes, let me get someone who can help you with that”.  He escorted me to the area of the store where these shirts are located and brought over the person who was more familiar with them.  I asked her if I could exchange the shirt and she said, “Yes, of course.  Would you like the same shirt in a different size or something else”?  She walked me over to the shirts in my size and told me to look around and pick something out and let her know when I was ready.  I chose one and headed back to the counter.  She complimented my selection,  mused about the oncoming of winter,  told me about their fall collection, all while ringing me up and providing me with full credit for the worn shirt I returned.  She was oozing “yes”.  It was a powerful experience for her as a salesperson and for me as a customer!

Later that evening I received a call from the manager of the manager of the No store.  I asked her if she was aware of the situation. She said, “No, I was just asked to call… something about an alteration?”  I explained, for the third time that the salesperson set the expectation that alterations were included.  She said, “Oh, no, no.  Alterations are never included”.

Earlier in the day, and before the head No manager called me,  my wife told that it was customary to pay for alterations.   This still doesn’t make sense to me that you pay a lot of money for a suit that has unfinished pant legs and at a minimum those have to be altered.  But OK, it is what it is and by the time the head No Manager called I was newly informed.  After she got past her initial “no” she told me she could offer me a compromise for my trouble and take $35.00 off the price.  I was OK with this. After all, I was never trying to get something for free.  Obviously I misunderstood the original salesperson or he made a mistake. I now knew that charging for alterations, even for a new suit with unfinished pant legs,  is customary.

As they say in sales, once you get the sale, shut up and take the order.  Manager No must have missed that class because she went on to lecture me about internal procedures, and the cost of alterations saying, “I can give you the $35.00 but but I can’t give you the entire amount off”.  I was OK with the $35.00 but by now had heard enough “no’s” to irritate me so I challenged her. I interrupted her lecture and asked her if she couldn’t or wouldn’t discount the entire price for alterations.  I said, “let’s be honest here.  It’s not that you can’t, it’s that you won’t, right?”

The No store is a multi-level building with many escalators – both physical and figurative.  Manager No’s response to my challenge was to try to escalate me to yet another No Manager with apparently more experience and authority to say no, perhaps in different languages or with different inflections…   Manager No said, “if you want to talk about the other $35.00 I can refer you to the Store Manager”.  I didn’t want to talk about the other $35.00.  I wanted to get off the phone and eat my dinner.    I told Manager No, that “no, I don’t want to talk to the store manager to try to negotiate a $17.50 compromise”.  Geesh, it was never about the money.  It’s about the experience.  Why don’t merchants get this?…  I told her that if I spoke with the Store Manager I would speak with her about how I will never shop at Macy’s again because of this experience.  The words sounded  trite coming out of my mouth and who knows if I’ll ever shop there again but for whatever reason, this caught Manager No’s attention.  She said, “OK, I’ll take care of this myself and take off all charges for alterations”.  Was I satisfied?  No because it was never about the seventy bucks…

When we as customer’s climb up a merchant’s figurative version of Yoko Ono’s ladder we want to see what John saw.  YES.   Otherwise we probably won’t make the climb again… And Huey Lewis might say it another way:

“It don’t take money, it don’t take fame.  It don’t take no credit card to ride this train. Tougher than nails, stronger than steel.  You won’t feel nothing ’till you feel….”

Yep – the power of YES.


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