The Answer Is Yes. What's the Question?
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The Answer Is Yes. What's the Question?

The Answer Is Yes. What's the Question?

Marketing guru and author Seth Godin is big on Yes. “Yes is an opportunity and Yes is an obligation.... There will always be a surplus of people eager to criticize, nitpick, or recommend caution. Your job, at least right now, is to reinforce the power of the Yes.”

And yet, too many employees still automatically say No to customers.

I hate the word No. I truly do. I believe it should be stricken from everyone’s business vocabulary. No is too often code for, “I don’t want to make the effort to figure out how to give you what you’re asking for.” Not exactly a key to success!

While staying in a prominent hotel in Las Vegas, I ordered room service. Asked if I wanted fries or coleslaw as my side, I asked if I could have a side of fruit. The person’s response was a quick and unfriendly, “No! Do you want fries or coleslaw?” What type of question was this?!

I replied, “What do you mean, No? I see a fruit dish on your menu.” She responded, “Well, I would have to charge you.” I responded, “I wasn’t asking for it free.”

Talk about an example of negative service. This team member forgot they were in the business of hospitality. How easy it would have been to say, “Certainly. While you cannot substitute the fruit for your side dish, I can add it to your order.”

Similarly (and more than a few times), I have been in a restaurant where one of my sons didn’t like anything on the kid’s menu and asked if he could have a grilled cheese sandwich. Again, nearly every time, the answer was No. Once I asked the waiter, “Do you mean to tell me that your restaurant doesn’t have bread and cheese that someone could throw on a stove?” The waiter responded, “Yeah, but I wouldn’t even know how to ring it up.” To which I replied, “I don’t care if you charge me the price of a steak. You don’t want my kid upset because he can empty this restaurant faster than a fire can!”

Yes, we have no bananas (or banana milkshakes)

Restaurateur Cameron Mitchell, author of Yes Is the Answer. What Is the Question? and owner of 42 restaurants with 19 different concepts, created a brilliant metaphor on which his company’s service philosophy is founded. He and his family were at a restaurant when his young son asked if he could have a milkshake. The server said No. Knowing the restaurant had ice cream, milk, and a blender, Mitchell couldn’t understand why someone wouldn’t accommodate a guest on such a simple thing.

The milkshake became an icon, reminding everyone at Cameron Mitchell Restaurants to find a way to say Yes. Since then it has developed a life of its own. The company starts every meeting with a Milkshake Toast, and gives a Milkshake Award to the associates who best demonstrate the spirit of their service brand promise, “Yes is the answer. What’s the question?”

Focus on what you can do, not on what you can’t

Whenever a customer approaches your employees, and before they can even say a word, an employee should say Yes. Saying Yes before a customer even asks something? Think of the surprise! Empowered employees usually can figure out a way to fulfill most, if not all, requests.

The best customer experience brands guide their employees during customer service training on how to not say No in situations where they can’t say Yes. Nearly always, there are other options. If a customer wants something that isn’t possible, instead of telling them what you can’t do, tell them what you can do. At my first business, John Robert’s Spa, if a guest arrives extremely late for an appointment and asks if we can still accommodate her, our guest care team is trained to respond, “While we can’t perform a full pedicure, we can do an express pedicure!”

In implementing this, first consider all the common situations that may arise in which it’s difficult for you to say Yes to a customer, then work on creative alternatives. You are training your employees to make your customers feel that their request was granted – a positive outcome in contrast to a situation like my side-of-fruit dilemma.

The second exercise is to create a metaphor or icon similar to the milkshake, and then promote it constantly to your entire organization on a daily basis in many ways, including recognition, signage, and awards.

Empower everyone in your company to do whatever it takes to deliver genuine hospitality and make customers happy. And enjoy that milkshake with your grilled cheese sandwich!

John R. DiJulius III, author of The Customer Service Revolution, is president of The DiJulius Group, a customer service consulting firm that works with companies including Starbucks, Chick-fil-A, Ritz-Carlton, Nestle, PwC, Lexus, and many more. Contact him at 216-839-1430 or

Published: September 19th, 2022

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