Editor’s note: A version of this article appeared on Shep Hyken’s blog and is adapted here with permission.
Customers don’t like to be told no. Any request or complaint that is met with a negative response may only add fuel to the fire. That’s why I’ve been intrigued for years by Cameron Mitchell’s philosophy, which is also the title of his book, “Yes is the Answer! What is the Question?”
Why did I wait so long to write about this? I have addressed this topic in several other ways. For example, one of my favorite business mantras is, “One to say yes, and two to say no,” which is all about empowering employees to say yes to customers. What made me want to write about Cameron Mitchell’s concept now is that I recently had the opportunity to interview Cameron and learn directly from the “Master of Yes.”
Cameron Mitchell is the founder and CEO of Cameron Mitchell Restaurants. There are about sixty of them, and they are recognized for great food and great service across the board. As one might imagine, in the restaurant business you get all types of special requests. It would be very easy to say no to a customer for many of these special requests, but Cameron has a different philosophy.
First, Cameron emphasizes the idea that saying yes is philosophical. There are plenty of reasons you might say no to a customer, so you must train your people accordingly. Obviously, you must say no to anything illegal. For example, a 16-year-old at a restaurant is not allowed to order alcohol. But you can start with the idea that everyone should try to say yes. Then, through training, give employees examples that show them how far they can go. That’s a good way to start embracing the “yes” attitude.
And “yes” really is an attitude. It must be baked into the culture of an organization. Employees must be empowered to say yes whenever possible or to find creative solutions to make customers happy when the answer must be no.
If an employee asks permission for something they weren’t sure they could say yes to, then that should be the last time the employee should ever have to ask permission for anything similar. Document those examples for others to follow. Train by citing examples of actual interactions between employees and customers. By the way, if someone crosses the line and doesn’t say no when they should, that is a great training opportunity as well.
“Yes” is more than just a simple answer to a customer’s request or needs. It’s an attitude and a culture. Create an organization focused on taking care of the customer—this could mean saying yes or coming up with other ways to make the customer happy. Serve your customers with the yes attitude, and they’ll serve you success.