“No problem” and other customer service communication problems

A friend of mine implored me to write something about the use of the phrase “no problem.” She was the recipient of it at her dental appointment. Upon arriving at the dentist’s office, she was instructed to wait in her car until they were ready for her. Because it was hot outside, she started getting very uncomfortable and decided to go into the office before she was called. After explaining the reason for her early arrival, the receptionist stated, “No problem…” It was quite irritating to my friend that instead of hearing sympathy for having to sit in a hot car she felt brushed off with a slang phrase, as if her getting out of the heat could be a problem.

Why are we getting our panties in a bunch over a silly catchphrase? Because when it comes to customer service everything we do either strengthens or weakens our relationship with a customer or client. The receptionist was probably trying to reassure my friend that coming into the office before she had been called was okay given the heat, but it wasn’t conveyed well. Instead, she could have said, “I’m so sorry you had to sit in a hot car. Please make yourself comfortable while the hygienist gets ready for your appointment.” See how much more understanding and welcoming that is? I realize COVID protocol is dictating a lot of policy changes, but sometimes you need to bend the rules if the rule is going to endanger the customer.

The phrases “No problem” and “No worries” are also often used in reply to someone saying “Thank you.” Those words can be irritating to some people because it sounds as if you’re saying there’s no need to worry that I did a kind thing for you. When someone says “Thank you” say “You’re welcome” or “My pleasure.”

Here are some other phrases I cover in my Customer Service Excellence training that one should never use in a customer service situation.

You didn’t pay the bill on time.  

Customers are not always right but there is no need to point out that they are wrong. Rather than stating what the customer’s mistake was use passive language. Also avoid using “you” which puts people on the defensive. Say, “The bill wasn’t paid on time.” This takes the focus off the person and states simply what was wrong.

Our computers are slow today.

Your computers may very well be slow, but instead of pointing that out use the extra time to get to know your customer. You could ask how their day is going, what the weather is like where they are located or use the time to mention an applicable product or service that might benefit the customer. That might sound like this, “While this information is coming up would you like to hear about our auto loan special we’re currently offering?”

We can’t do that.

When the customer asks for something that you’re unable to do or give, offer an alternative. For instance, if a bank customer bounced a lot of checks and wants you to refund the fees, rather than saying, “We can’t do that” say, “I’m unable to reverse the fees, but what I can do is register you for our free money management class that’s coming up on… Would you like me to do that for you?”

Please hold.

If you have to put a customer on hold, always ask for permission rather than giving a command. Ask, “May I put you on hold for ten seconds while I look up that information?” Be sure to pause and allow the customer to respond before pushing the hold button.

I don’t know.

No one can be expected to know everything about the company and its products or services, but never leave a customer hanging without trying to help her. If you don’t know the answer to a question, be upfront and find a way to get the information. For example, “I’m not sure how much sugar is in our Grande Flippaccino, but let me look it up for you. I’ll just be a minute.”

These are a few of the customer service no no phrases I hear often. What are some that you find annoying?


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Arden

Arden Clise is founder and president of Clise Etiquette. Her love for business etiquette began in previous jobs when she was frequently asked for etiquette, public speaking and business attire advice by executives and board members. The passion for etiquette took hold and compelled Arden to start a consulting business to help others. Read more >>

8 Comments

  1. Nigel on June 5, 2021 at 12:25 am

    There is another common phrase used that irritates me.
    On entering a shop or reaching the service counter, quite often I’m asked, “Are you alright?”

    If I reply, “Yes, thank you, I’m alright but I want to buy a new one of these.” Or something similar, it baffles them and the answer they wanted was really something else.
    Why can’t they ask, “May I help you?”

    Am I being too fuddy duddy?



  2. Carole on June 5, 2021 at 2:00 pm

    I am not at all offended by the phrase “no worries”. Itʻs used by younger people (much younger than me). It simply means they are happy to help you. Personally, I never use it. It just doesnʻt roll of my tongue easily. I much prefer “Itʻs my pleasure”, which seems to surprise people in a very pleasant way. Honestly? Iʻm bothered by people who need others to act in a certain way or they are offended and critical. Itʻs much easier to simply not be offended.



  3. Beth on June 5, 2021 at 2:00 pm

    YES! Thank you for this. Arden, I’m sure you and I have spoken about this before. “No problem” and “no worries” (and another: “no big deal”) should be banned. Period. Even if someone says, “I hope it’s not a problem…” it’s better to respond, “Oh, I’m happy to help,” or some other affirming statement.

    RE: “We can’t do that,” I’m not sure I’d want to make a suggestion that could be received as judgmental. If I had bounced checks, I’d feel embarrassed if someone offered to enroll me in a money management class. Maybe I just lost my job, or there was an unexpected cash flow issue, and this is the first time it’s happened. There’s an assumption underneath the suggestion that I can’t handle my money. I’d rather hear, “we have other account options that include overdraft protection, would you like information about those?” or something like that.

    My husband and I also experience a prickly amusement when a server (wait staff? what’s the proper title?) checks in towards the end of our meal to ask, “are you still working on that?” We’re not “working” on anything, we’re eating it! 🙂 I’d rather they say, “may I clear your plate?”

    Thank you for this post… really wonderful tips!



  4. Carole on June 5, 2021 at 2:04 pm

    This reminds me of a recent incident where I sat down in a restaurant and the waiter approached and said something like “how is your day going?” I responded “fantastic!” He then remarked that it was refreshing to hear a positive comeback as more often people grumble. Food for thought as you go about your day-to-day.



  5. Arden on June 5, 2021 at 8:57 pm

    So true. It’s always better to be positive than a Debby Downer. Good for you for making his day positive.



  6. Arden on June 5, 2021 at 9:04 pm

    Hi Beth,

    Really good point about the “We can’t do that” option I proposed. That could seem judgemental. When I wrote it I was thinking of repeat offenders who continually ask for a refund on their fees, but even then, it would be much better to offer a different product that would give overdraft protection. Thanks for enlightening me.

    As far as waiters asking, “Are you still working on that” it is very common. I wrote a blog post that included a request to waiters to not ask that question. https://cliseetiquette.com/restaurant-wait-staff-pet-peeves/ I’m not sure where that phrase originated, but I wish it would go away.



  7. Arden on June 5, 2021 at 9:04 pm

    Good point Carole.



  8. Arden on June 5, 2021 at 9:06 pm

    Hi Nigel,

    I haven’t heard that phrase used in the U.S., but I have heard it in Australia. It seems strange the clerk would be baffled by your answer. I wonder if perhaps the question is a way to greet someone. Very interesting.



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