Are You In the “No” Business?

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There’s a little Italian restaurant near my home where I go when—well, when I want to eat Italian food. Duh. So I was there the other evening (because I wanted to eat Italian food), and the hostess was seating an elderly couple. I wasn’t really paying attention, but apparently they asked if they could be seated closer to the window. The hostess very nicely explained that that wasn’t possible, for some reason that I didn’t catch. But the owner, who happened to be nearby, did catch it. He interceded (without embarrassing the hostess), and moved the couple. As he walked away, I heard him—again, in a very nice way—tell the hostess, “We’re not in the ‘no’ business.”

What a great philosophy! “We’re not in the ‘no’ business.” But let’s look at what this really means (and, of course, find or manufacture a Beatles tie-in).

First of all, let’s look at what this doesn’t mean. It doesn’t mean the customer is always right! The customer is not always right! C’mon—we all know there are times when the customer doesn’t have the faintest clue what they want, or what the best solution is. They’ll say the most ridiculous things, and then it’s our job as the product or service provider to gently steer them in the right direction. So let’s take “the customer is always right” off the table right now.

So what do I think “We’re not in the ‘no’ business” does mean? I think it means looking for a way to say “yes” when your first instinct is to say “no.” Usually this requires the use of another small word—”if.” Obviously if a customer asks for something that’s really unfeasible, just saying “yes” instead of “no” isn’t going to help the situation. But what if, instead of coming out with an automatic “no,” you first looked for a way to say “yes”? It might look something like this:

  • “None of the window booths are available now, but if we move a smaller table over there by the wall, you could have a window seat. Would that work for you?”
  • “If you’d be willing to go with this paper stock rather than the custom stock then, yes, we could have your order ready by Friday.”
  • “Yes, I can give you a discount on a set of Beatles CDs, if you’d be okay with these pre-owned ones instead of the new, remastered set you were looking at.” (BTW, regarding the Beatles tie-in: mission accomplished! Not elegantly, mind you, or even well, but accomplished all the same.)

I’m sure you can come up with more (and better!) examples. But what it comes down to is a mindset shift. It has to be a conscious choice (at least, until it becomes habit). When you’re tempted to say “no” to a customer or client (or, for that matter, spouse), ask yourself first if there’s a way to say “yes.” Many times there will be; but, of course, sometimes there won’t. Sometimes “no” is the right answer

Just don’t make it your default.


About the Author:

29-time Emmy Award winner and Hall of Fame keynote speaker Bill Stainton, CSP is an expert on Innovation, Creativity, and Breakthrough Thinking. He helps leaders and their teams come up with innovative solutions — on demand — to their most challenging problems.
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