The Problem With “No Problem”

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I used to say the phrase “No Problem.” I don’t use this phrase anymore. I hear a lot of people using the phrase with abandon.  I have only recently experienced the negative, and dismissive attitude that goes behind it.

I was at the Georgia Department of Labor in December 2011, and my unemployment “benefits” were unexpectedly cut off after two weeks.  The restaurant I was working in as a decently paid waiter had closed for good a week before Christmas, and my last $500 went to my child support payment.  I didn’t know why my benefits stopped, but I sincerely wanted to know why.  I went to my local Georgia Department of Labor office to find out.  As it turned out, it was my fault.  I worked for a temporary agency to earn a small sum of money.  Since there is no provision in their paperwork for doing temporary work, I filled out the paperwork incorrectly that caused their computers to end my unemployment “benefits.”  I wouldn’t discover this for a couple more visits. What this meant was that I wouldn’t be getting an unemployment “benefits” check this week, my rent was due, I was in a bit of a crisis, and I wasn’t handling it well.

I hadn’t totally lost my mind…yet.  After passionately stating my case to the employee who treated me like an interruption to her otherwise perfect day, I thanked her and turned to walk out the door.  Then I heard the phrase that almost led to actions that would have gotten me arrested: “No Problem.”  It stopped me in my tracks.  I composed myself, turned around, got as close to “in her face” as possible and said “Wrong. It’s a problem for me.”

Here’s the deal.  I had a problem.  It was her job to help me understand the problem so I could take a different action to solve the problem. I left with the same problem and didn’t know what to do about it (hence, she didn’t do her job).  The problem was still there.  Her response of “No Problem” sounded like another way of telling me “Go screw yourself.”

Her response of “No Problem” sounded like another way of telling me “Go screw yourself.”

I’m apparently not the only one who has noticed the recent increase of this nonchalant, dismissive response.

To the government employee’s defense, government has never been in the customer service business and never will be.  People who work for the government work for one thing: a pension.  They trudge into to their daily course every day and do as little work as possible, including take care of their “customers.” How can they get away with it?  Because they can.  There is no competing Department of Labor across the street.  The government has a monopoly on government services.  That’s why they are called government services because you can’t get them anywhere else and there is no method to complain.

Fortunately, we, as business people, don’t have that “luxury.” If you are in sales, marketing or customer service, erase the phrase “no problem” as a response to your customer’s “thank you.” The response “no problem” tells your customer that you really don’t give a damn what happens to them.  The response “no problem” tells your customer that they didn’t ruin your otherwise perfect day by bothering you with their trivial existence (that pays your bills).  A much more appropriate response is “You’re welcome,” and if you’re genuinely on your game, you can reply with “Thank you,” as in “Thank you for your business that ultimately allows me to pay my bills.” Because your customer’s business pays your bills.

But you don’t have to say all that, just remember it.  After all, you’re in business to help solve your customers’ problems.  If you don’t, someone else will.  Or you could get a job with the government…

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