Sunday, September 15, 2013

Is it really a problem?

I find solace in that I am not the only one who feels this way. MTV's Bill Flanagan of CBS Sunday Morning finds the phrase, "no problem" to be a problem. 

About three years ago in a instant message when I asked for help from a colleague, I said "Thank you" he replied "np".

This happened a few more times with different colleagues in instant messaging until I looked it up. "np" is a short form meaning "No problem". Honestly I was still perplexed. What does that mean?

When someone is doing their job or exceeding their job and someone else recognizes the effort by saying "Thank you" why is the response "No problem"? It made no sense to me.

Not until recently when I was with a friend who thanked a waitress for bringing our drinks to the table, the waitress replied with "No problem" and my friend blurted out "I hate that phrase".

Immediately I found kinship. "Why?" I asked.

He said, "What does 'problem' mean?"

I said "A 'problem' means something is wrong."

His response "Right, a negative, a bad situation or issue."

By saying "No problem" one is implying that there is not a negative or bad situation. A person doing a service as part of his/her job should not see that task as a problem.

When one is doing one's job, why would one turn attention to a potential problem--negative issue--when one does not exist. Doing one's job, paying attention to others, reacting in ways of service or solving problems is opposite of a negative connotation.

When excelling at at a task, one is at the other end of the spectrum from the negative. The "No problem" response is rather silly.

When is it that "no problem" is an appropriate response? Maybe, when a customer asks, "Would it be a problem to do ..?" and then the appropriate response could be "It would be no problem to ..."

Words having meaning. Giving service at the minimum maybe one's job. Making a customer feel like you enjoy waiting on them gives meaning to your service.

What are more appropriate responses? A simple "You are welcome." A better answer is "My pleasure." What are others? Whatever your response is, don't indicate that it could have been a problem.


Unknown said...

I coach my coachees to say "It was my pleasure, besides, you would have done the same thing!" The last part is significant and sets the stage for reciprocity.. which is a critical part of relationship and team building.

Unknown said...

Mitch, I agree, making others feel comfortable is very important in providing service.

Unknown said...

Well, I was certainly not born after 1980 and am squarely "Generation X" (which probably means I represent the worst of the baby boomer and millennial traits) so admittedly I searched all my chat transcripts for whether I did this ;-)

While my chat transcripts only went back to 9/2010, it looks like all my "np"'s are actually "no problem" situations. Though I'm not completely sure I'm out of the woods.

I can totally understand this feeling. I'm sure I've felt it before and I quite imagine my reaction was: "What do you mean 'no problem' ?!?! Of course it's not a problem - it's your dang job!" I can completely relate, "You're Welcome" is far more appropriate in the situation(s) I think you are describing.

But language is a funny thing.

There are two points I thought of vis-a-vis this "no problem" problem - one, "customer service" is an incredibly vague concept, mainly because "customer" is an incredibly vague thing, particularly these days.

Though I imagine we both would offer that should just be "service" - regardless of the transactional exchange. The 'customer' has every responsibility to be as cordial as the 'service provider'. That "the customer is always right" is a total load of horse manure, and I wouldn't be surprised if "No problem" is a (unfortunate) generational backlash to that.

And as an "almost" young person for Bill Finnegan, I'd offer what drives me bonkers, and will certainly lead to me using "no problem" - and it might well mean "no problem" being as much a lie as "bless your heart" can be

It's the "We're so sorry to be a bother" phrasing.

If it's not a situation where any reasonable person would consider it a bother - then don't apologize. If it would be a situation that a reasonable person would consider it a bother, then by all means, don't bother me! :-)

I'd offer that "Old People" love the insincere "Sorry to be a bother" as much as "Young People" drop "No problem." in a situation.

And of course, stuck between both generations, I'm totally guilty of both :-)

Unknown said...

Jason, in my confession, I think it was an IM from you that I first saw "np" and when I saw it again I looked it up.

In my discussions with my friend (the one mentioned in the blog post who happens to have spent decades in the hospitality industry), I have told him there are circumstances where "np" is an acceptable answer. I was thinking of the times that you as well as others gave support beyond your jobs. Though I believe a 'np" seemed to have minimized the efforts.

I almost did not include Flanagan's video because he drew the age line--I am not old! and certainly born before 1980.

Flanagan does make a good point about service folks who work off tips. I also have thought about how Truett Cathey insists on a happy customer service attitude in their fast food joints. Cashiers make you feel like they enjoyed waiting on you--don't we need more of that?

When I have to call customer service lines (these folks don't get tips) and I get my problem solved with a sincere nice attitude that comes across as wanting to help, I thank them. I continue to feel good about their service when they say "It was my pleasure to serve you today." And in those occasions I always ask their names and tweet the company and the first name of the employee.

Maybe I am too emotional, but I like to feel welcomed and that I am not a bother.

Unknown said...

Ha! I had a feeling I was an np source! :-)

I'd be totally interested to go back and look at the context of that exchange if you ever find it again, and if I remember why I chose to respond like that (if I was actually thinking at all). Or whether the context was even clear from IM (which, without verbal/visual cues, can be really hard to discern).

I'd probably like to posit that IM, between colleagues, and certainly in what is a fairly "odd" working environment that our organization(s) present (and furthermore an incredibly odd 'service' environment, with really, really unclear roles and responsibilities) is more vague than the food service and traditional customer service industries, but maybe it's not really, I can certainly see how "no problem" can cheapen even good "service" (regardless of the transactional relationship)

At any rate, it's a really interesting post and language consideration, I'm probably very likely to be quite aware of it in future IM's now :-). Thank you! ;-)