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21 Mar 2008 / Julie

Good Customer Service is never saying “no.”

If you were flipping through the February 2008 issue of Fast Company (the one with Mike Rowe of Discovery Channel’s Dirty Jobs) you ran into BMW’s “No” campaign.

The ad starts:

“Two letters.”
“A word that transcends every language.”
“A word that is simple to enunciate but sometimes hard to say.”
“No closes doors.”
“But when used to break convention, it opens many more.”
(see full ad at the Ten Thousand Things blog)

As Steven Kovar says on his blog, “Two letters—an entire set of values.” Their campaign is simple and elegant and gets to the crux of what i believe is important in customer service. Customer Service is never having to say “no.”

As I’ve said before, we (those in customer service, including reference work) should take each interaction with our customers as a chance to make a difference in their lives with the information or help we provide them, and the relationship we build. It’s about taking the time to let each person know they’re important- that their information need is important- and that we’re going to take the time to make sure they have what they need.

You can’t build relationships and solve problems by saying “No.” “No” only builds walls and barriers.

Now, this isn’t to say that we will always have the answers, because at some point, we won’t. There may eventually come a time where we simply can’t help. I’d like to emphasize though, that these times are RARE. Very Rare.

“But, Julie,” you ask. “There are lots of times we can’t answer the customer’s question.”

True. Sometimes we can’t answer their question. But the customer’s question doesn’t necessarily get at their information need. We all know that “Where are your medical books” usually really means “I need information on x condition because my friend was recently diagnosed and I need to know how to help her.” Suddenly, the answer goes from “2nd floor, first set of stacks to your left” to “we have some excellent resources on helplines, support groups, and here’s some easy-to-understand articles/books” and we’ve gone from being part of the scenery to touching someone’s life and opening the door for a relationship to be built.

Even if we don’t have the answer, I can’t think of many times where we can’t at least get people on the right path, walking in the right direction. I keep hearing about how, traditionally, librarians are very clingy with their questions. Once they’ve gotten it, they own it; if they can’t answer it, they call it dead. I’ve even found it hard to get all of our librarians to really utilize the referral options we have available. It’s almost as if sending a question along for referral is seen a failed interaction.

It is very hard to admit we can’t do as much as we’d like but we’re not experts on everything. And it’s not about us; it’s about them and they don’t care if the information comes from you, your colleague in the back, or Poughkeepsie- they just want help. Even if you don’t have the answer, it has to exist in some form, somewhere. The point is options. There honestly aren’t that many walls in the world we can’t get through one way or another. Libraries certainly aren’t one of them. If you don’t have it, who does? If you can’t access it, who can? If you’re not sure, who might be? If you can’t help, who can?

Find a way to turn your No’s into Yes’s and watch the delight and satisfaction of your customers explode. I guarantee you that even if you can’t solve their problem immediately and on the spot, if you took the time to find out what they really need (instead of taking the question at face value), let them know you really cared about them and/or their problem and gave them additional things to try in their quest, they will be very happy.

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