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(originally published by Booz & Company)


When It Comes to Customer Service, Don’t Say No

Lewis P. Carbone, author of Clued In: How to Keep Customers Coming Back Again and Again, introduces an excerpt on how to eliminate negative cues from The Effortless Experience: Conquering the New Battleground for Customer Loyalty, by Matthew Dixon, Nick Toman, and Rick DeLisi.

The mind is a powerful thing. But almost all our mental processing takes place unconsciously; neuroscience suggests that as few as 5 percent of a person’s decisions are based on conscious, rational thought. Whether companies realize it or not, they’re constantly delivering clues that influence their customers’ unconscious thinking—shaping their impressions and ultimately, their actions.  

Consider customer service. Chances are you have bailed on a company you’d been satisfied with for years because of a bad experience with its customer service department. (Many of us would: In a 2013 Mitel survey of 2,000 adults in the U.K., 74 percent of the respondents said they would change suppliers after a poor experience with a customer service department.) But chances are you would have stayed with the company if its customer service reps had just made it easier for you to place your order or resolve your problem.

This doesn’t mean that customers expect to be swept off their feet by customer service reps. What they really want, explain Matthew Dixon, Nick Toman, and Rick DeLisi, is an “effortless” experience. In the following passage from their new book, The Effortless Experience, you’ll learn how one manufacturer found a simple way to help its customer service reps deliver such experiences. No hoopla. No fanfare. No heroics. Just a set of simple statements that eliminated the negative emotional cues associated with the most common problems its customers encounter, reduced costs, and enhanced customer satisfaction.

Lewis P. Carbone

An excerpt from chapter 4 of The Effortless Experience:
Conquering the New Battleground for Customer Loyalty

You can’t always say yes to every customer request. It would be great if you could, but there are many situations in which the thing a customer wants and the thing you have to give are not the same. Then what?

Well, of course, the opposite of yes So let’s consider the word “no” for a moment. How do you react when you hear that word? For most of us, “no” is a trigger that sets in motion an entire chain of negative emotions. Anger, outrage, argumentation. These are all baked into our DNA. Somewhere between your sixth and twelfth month of life, you first made a realization that has stuck with you until this day:

If Mommy says no, you have three options:

  • Accept it and move on (unlikely).
  • Go ask Daddy (since you’ve still got a 50/50 shot of getting a yes from him).
  • Or kick and scream to show your displeasure, hoping your outburst will change the no into a yes.

In a service interaction, when most customers hear “no,” they do one of a number of things—all of which are pretty bad outcomes for the company (and not all that different from how we responded when we were children):

  • Engage in some emotional response: Argue with the rep, get angry, use foul language, create some kind of outburst.
  • Hang up, call back, and try again with another rep, often called “rep shopping.” This, of course, is the customer version of the “go ask Daddy” reaction.
  • Escalate the call: By asking the rep to transfer you to their supervisor, you’re playing a more savvy version of the rep-shopping game, since most customers have learned that the supervisor has more authority to waive annoying fees, substitute higher-priced products without an additional charge, and generally bend the rules.
  • Threaten to never do business with the company again: Sometimes this is just a veiled threat, and sometimes it’s sincere. Regardless...even if it’s just bluster, it’s bluster that a customer can easily share with anyone and everyone who will listen, thanks to the digital soapbox that social media gives us.
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The Reviewer

  1. Lewis P. Carbone is founder and president of Experience Engineering Inc., an experience management firm. He is also author of Clued In: How to Keep Customers Coming Back Again and Again (Prentice-Hall, 2004) and a seminal article in Marketing Management, “Engineering Customer Experiences” (PDF).

This Book

  1. The Effortless Experience: Conquering the New Battleground for Customer Loyalty (Penguin Portfolio, 2013) by Matthew Dixon, Nick Toman, and Rick DeLisi

    Matthew Dixon is executive director of strategic research at CEB (formerly the Corporate Executive Board), a member-based advisory company. He is also author of The Challenger Sale: Taking Control of the Customer Conversation (with Brent Adamson; Penguin Portfolio, 2011).

    Nick Toman oversees the global research operation and product development for CEB’s Sales Leadership Council. His articles, “The End of Solution Sales” and “Stop Trying to Delight Your Customers” appeared in Harvard Business Review.

    Rick DeLisi is a senior director of advisory services in the sales and service practice of CEB. Previously, he was director of corporate communications for Independence Air.

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