No problem is a problem

“No problem” is a problem for me.

When I say thank you to a service representative and they say, “No problem”, it makes me cringe.  It used to drive my wife and kids crazy when we would be out shopping and I would comment about the clerk or cashier‘s response of “no problem” when I said “thank you”.   As we would walk away I would invariably say, “Well I’m glad I didn’t put them out.  Thank God it wasn’t a problem for them.  I would have hated to ruin their day or created any PROBLEMS …”!  Seriously…

So, for the longest time my wife would shake her head, and tell me to loosen up. “Cut them some slack”, she would say.  “No problem is just a saying, like thank you”.  No, a saying like thank you is, thank you. Or, you’re welcome; or, my pleasure.  Or, I’m glad I could help.

I think the use of “no problem” in a service interaction is problematic.  It projects an informal image that may be appropriate with a long time customer at a surf shop on the coast (“no problem dude”) but not necessarily right for a first time interaction with a customer at a restaurant or high-end electronics store.  And certainly not appropriate for a phone interaction when face to face expressions and body language are not part of the experience equation.

I’ve challenged myself on this topic of “No problem”. I’ve considered whether I’m just being overly demanding.  Maybe, I’ve thought,  this is just one of those customer experience pet peeves of mine.  Because  I am a very demanding (discerning is how I like to think of it) customer. I know this because my family, friends, and business colleagues tell me so.  So maybe I should loosen up as my wife suggests.  Sure, why not?  Really, what’s wrong with “no problem”?  What’s wrong with it?  Well everything…

“No problem” sends a message of lack of engagement: I’m a service rep and I really wish I was somewhere else but so long as you the customer don’t create problems I will tolerate you.  So long as I the service rep don’t have to make eye contact and make an emotional connection that may create customer loyalty it’s not a problem. And, if you the customer didn’t realize it when I say, “no problem”, it really means, “you’re done here, please move out of my space”.

When I shop for shoes I don’t expect or intend to create problems by spending money in a merchant’s store and adding to their top line.  When I engage a bank for services and need to call customer service to check on my thousands of dollars that they are using to run their business I don’t figure this will have created any problems for their board of director’s annual bonus.  So, when I thank the person on the other side of the counter or other end of the phone I certainly don’t need to hear that it wasn’t a problem.  I already know that.

The problem is that “no problem” is a slippery slope for merchants, companies, and corporations.  It all starts with a thank you.  But when the thank you is answered by “no problem”, that slope get’s slippery and no problem turns into “whatever”.  Whatever turns into “yeah, right”.  And yeah right turns into “customer be gone”.   And so we will.  Be gone that is.  So, if you are [insert your company name here], then “no problem”  is definitely a problem.


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