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Some Kidding Aside – Customer Service Basket Case

Customer Service means never saying “no.”

I went into a sweets store at the mall this past weekend to buy a gift basket for a visiting client. As I browsed the store’s shelves, I noticed the goodies in the baskets looked less than appetizing, so I asked Jeff, the customer service representative, if he could make a fresh basket for me.

“No,” he said, “I can’t do it for you today.” Then he went back to the counter and waited on another customer.

I thought about it for a bit than re-approached Jeff. “Why can’t I get a gift basket made today?”

“Because my basket guy has already gone home” he replied. “He won’t be back in until Monday.”

Now, you should know that whenever I am confronted with stupidity, it’s really, really hard for me not to smart off.

Sometimes, I’m able to hold back if I try super hard. This wasn’t one of those times.

“Does your basket guy have some sort of special basket-creating license that allows him, and nobody else, to put candy in a basket and wrap it?” I asked.

“Well, no, but he’s the only one that knows how to work the shrink wrap machine.”

You just can’t make this stuff up.

Sensing that a solution might be in sight because I have some experience with shrink wrap machines, and thus have been fully trained in the mysterious art of shrink-wrapping, I thought I might mention this to Jeff and see if he might be open to me stepping in to pinch hit.

“Hey Jeff, I know how to work a shrink wrap machine,” I began. It’s a pretty straight-forward operation. You just slip the basket in, seal it and then eat it, right?”

“Well, its hard because the plastic wrap can get holes in it and stuff,” he replied, and then turned away and walked back to the counter.

I’ll admit that Jeff’s amazing powers of customer non-service almost had me stumped, but I knew in my heart that if I tried hard and exerted all of my creativity and will, I might be able to draw from Jeff the customer service I needed. So, I thought I would spell it out for Jeff and see if I could get him to rise to the challenge.

“Jeff,” I began, looking him square in the eye, “I am trying to give your store some MONEY. What I’d like for you to do is offer me some options that would allow me to do that. What are my options for buying something nice for my client today, not Monday?”

“Well, I can’t make you a basket, but I guess I can make a gift box for you.”

Hallelujah and pass the peas. A customer service convert. One down, about a billion to go.

The principle that I was subtly trying to get Jeff to understand was that you never, ever tell a customer “no.” Instead, replace that word with the words “no, but. . .”

In Jeff’s situation, the conversation  might have sounded less like, “No, you’re out of luck” and more like “Hmm, I can’t get you a fresh basket right now, but how about some of our fresh pralines and fudge in one of our gift boxes?”

How hard would that have been?

There are several reasons to use this approach instead of saying “no.”

1] When you tell a customer “no,” you risk sending them down the street to your competition. There are just too many people waiting in line for a customer’s business for you to shut them down cold.

2] The word “no” is offensive. There are too many great alternatives to use instead.

3] When you offer options, you show the customer that you actually care.

Which brings me to my final point. Before saying “no” – and I know this is really going to stretch a lot of folks out there – why not just try! Give it a shot. Go for it. Give it a whirl.

If you fail to make the figurative gift basket, you can always default to the “no, but. . .” method afterward.

Whether the economy is robust or ailing, there are only two types of businesses: Those that offer excellent customer service and those that are either going out, or have gone out, of business. Which one do you want yours to be?

© 2018 Charles Marshall. Charles Marshall is a nationally known humorous motivational speaker and author. Visit his website or contact him via email at


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