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Years ago, while attending a 7 Habits of Highly Effective People seminar in New York City, I listened as our facilitator, Dr. Larry Kokkelenberg, stated that the word “no” is not a negative word.

The word “no,” he explained, is actually a positive word. It’s an empowering word—a liberating word. It’s a word that enables us to remain in command of our time and priorities.

To illustrate, let’s say a coworker invites you out for drinks after work. Although you enjoy spending time with this coworker, you also recognize that you’ve been inconsistent lately about getting to the gym due to work and other demands and are now beginning to “feel it.”

In this case, if fitness is a priority for you, you might say “no” (to drinks) because you have a bigger “yes” (fitness) burning inside.

So, if we’re talking about personal development, recall that “no” is a useful word to have at your disposal. But if we’re talking about serving customers, eliminate the word from your vocabulary.

Why? It’s bad for business.

Last night, I stopped by a liquor store on my way home to pick up a 12-pack of Sierra Nevada Torpedo Extra IPA.

I discovered that, while they had space reserved for the 12-pack, they were currently out of stock. To the right, I spotted a full shelf of 6-packs. I also noticed that the 12-pack price was $15.49 and 6-packs sold for $7.99.

I grabbed two 6-packs and brought them to the register at the front of the store. Before the clerk scanned them, I asked if he could give me the 12-pack price since the only reason I was buying two 6-packs is because they were out of 12-packs.

He said, “No. We can’t do that.”

He then reached for the first 6-pack to scan it (apparently assuming I was okay with his answer) and I said, “Listen, would you mind putting these back for me?”

Surprised, he said, “Yeah. Sure.”

I thanked him, left the store, and then drove to another liquor store (Did I mention that I pass, like, 10 of them on my way home?) and bought a 12-pack there.

There is no state liquor law preventing this employee from extending the 12-pack price to two 6-packs. What prevents him from doing so is a mindset that says, “I’m willing to forfeit a $15.49 sale to save 49 cents.”

That’s a ridiculous mindset to have in business—especially when your profit margins are above 20 percent.

While words like no, can’t, won’t, and don’t may support personal productivity, they undermine customer service.

And what’s bad for customer service is also bad for business.

Order Delight Your Customers: 7 Simple Ways to Raise Your Customer Service from Ordinary to Extraordinary by Steve Curtin or purchase from select retailers, including Barnes & Noble.
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