«No problem» is a problem
I am engaged in a protracted discussion with Carphone Warehouse (CPW) and its suppliers, Vodafone and Samsung. Frequently, when I am about to conclude yet another protracted call to one of their call centres, the person at the other end says, “No problem”.
Well, it is a problem. It’s my problem if the phone still doesn’t work. It’s my problem that I am having to call CPW because CPW still haven’t fixed the phone.
And because I have these problems with these suppliers, it’s their problem, however much they don’t want it to be. (If only because of the Sale of goods act, 1979, and the Supply of goods and services act, 1982.)
I don’t want to be told that I don’t have a problem when I do, when the person I am talking to represents the organisation responsible.
I’ve started to pick people up on this and it’s very interesting to talk to them about it.
Most of them have no idea what I am talking about. Obviously I don’t go into the concepts of subconscious communication and the principle that the meaning of a message is what the recipient makes of it.
When I persist, some of them seem to get the message. One woman, at Samsung, when I explained that, if I had a problem, Samsung had a problem, went out of her way to reassure me that she didn’t mean to suggest that I didn’t have a problem, but she used “no problem” to indicate that she didn’t have a problem!
Nevertheless, I really did think she had got my point until, a little later, having concluded that bit of the conversation, it was time to say goodbye, out came the “not a problem” once more.
It’s like Tourette’s syndrome.
I was in Waterstone’s bookshop on Thursday, looking for Joel Bakan’s book, The corporation. They didn’t have it in the business section, though I couldn’t be sure because the books there were not in any discernible order. When I went to the desk to ask them if they had this book and to point out that books weren’t displayed properly, I was told the book was in the “Happy thinking” section and they didn’t have it anyway.
I pointed out that this book was about corporations (ie big businesses), it wasn’t a “Happy thinking” book, so it had been allocated to the wrong section by head office which must now be losing sales because punters can’t find it.
She wasn’t the sort of shop assistant who was wholly uninterested in her job, but she clearly wasn’t interested that I had had a problem. Out came the “No problem”, as if to say “naff off!”
“No problem” is a problem because it communicates a lack of interest, a lack of concern in people who work in what is laughingly called customer services in organisations like CPW.
It tells the customer, whose only crime was to trust the supplier that they might be able to do the job they claim to be able to do, that the supplier really isn’t interested in them, once the money has been handed over.
And it reinforces the belief that corporations create call centres to keep customers away from management, particularly senior management. The last thing they want is a problem from customers.
Why this epidemic has broken out
If I were to drop an expensive bottle of wine in my local supermarket, shattering it and spilling wine over their nice floor, I would, of course, find a shop assistant and confess to him/her, if only from a health and safety perspective.
“I’m terribly sorry, I am afraid I have dropped this rather expensive bottle of wine and I think it probably needs clearing up”, I might say.
At this point a good response might be, “Not a problem, sir, I’ll get a minion to do the dirty work”.
This is the problem that prompts the appropriate response “not a problem”: when it’s the punter who is “in the wrong”. He/she has just destroyed some stock, for example, and is rather hoping not to have to pay twenty quid for it.
This is not the same situation, guys, as the one where the punter is not only “in the right” but rightly aggrieved that Carphone Warehouse, or whoever, still haven’t dealt with the problem competently, or at all.
The ideal solution would be for the call centre person to sign off with a specific response relating to the complaint as it has now been left. It is, clearly, far too much to ask that the response is something like
I’m sorry, sir, that Carphone Warehouse still hasn’t made any progress resolving your longstanding problem; we agreed in this call that I would do X, Y and Z and I will report back to you on date D with an update.
However, a response that is a lot less offensive than “Not a problem”—and has the merit of being short, all purpose and trainable is:
Back in 1941, Kenneth B Elliott, a vice president at Studebaker, a now defunct car manufacturer, wrote an article in a magazine, Printer’s ink. Here are five principles, as true today as they were then:
1 The customer is not dependent upon us—we are dependent upon him
2 The customer is not an interruption of our work—he is the purpose of it
3 The customer is not a rank outsider to our business—he is a part of it
4 The customer is not a statistic—he is a flesh-and-blood human being
5 The customer is not someone to argue with or match wits against.
I have humbly crafted my own maxim, based on these:
Customers do not create problems for suppliers. Suppliers create problems for customers.
Going back to Joel Bakan, and his book, unimaginatively titled The corporation but otherwise excellent. A quotation:
The corporation’s legally defined mandate is to pursue, relentlessly and without exception, its own self interest, regardless of the often harmful consequences it might cause to others. As a result, I argue, the corporation is a pathological institution, a dangerous possessor of the great power it wields over people and societies.
> The “psychopathic corporation”
by Jeremy Marchant . updated 11 november 2014