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The term ‘auto-response’ has become familiar to most people with even the slightest exposure to electronic communications. Most all of us have received an almost instant auto-response message stating, the person you are sending your message to will not be checking emails for a period of time, so don’t expect a response. To some those messages are helpful. To me they are just another piece of electronic clutter. In any case the now popular usage of the term auto-response is not its most important use.

Each day we all use auto-responses in our communication with others. We automatically respond, that is we have an auto-response to every interaction with another person. Auto-responses can be verbal, a non-verbal gesture, or simply making eye contact. In many cases all three methods are combined to initiate or conclude an interaction. As an example, on your way to a meeting you find yourself walking past your boss’s boss. Without prior planning you walk up to her, reach out to shake her hand, look her in the eyes and state, “Hello”. You both then move on about your business.

The greeting prior to a meeting is an example of an inter-personal auto-response. We all do many times a day. Each of us has our own favorite phrases, such has “How is it going?”, How are you?, or simply “Hello”. We also have standard phrases we use at the end of an interaction such as, “Take Care”, “Nice Seeing You, or simply “Good-bye”. When closely examined most are meaningless phrases and certainly not intended to engender a response.

So why are personal auto-responses important? Quite simply, each person you come in contact with will use your auto-response to help form perceptions and opinions. This is very important with transactional interactions in a business environment where a staff member may have over one hundred passing interactions with customers on a single shift. How the interaction is handled goes a long way in determining how the customer feels about the business.

A company with a strong customer service culture will train the proper auto-response for their staff members. A company with a weak customer service culture will either not pay attention to how a staff member interacts in a business environment or they will overly script the interaction so that it takes all personality out of the exchange. Either creates a negative impression with the customer.

The “king of the hill” in getting it wrong is when the phrase “No Problem” or “Not a Problem” is used at the conclusion of an interaction, typically after the customer says, “Thank You”. In a transactional interaction “No Problem” is a problem on two levels. The stated “Thank You” is an acknowledgement that service was provided. It is not an apology for disrupting the tranquility enjoyed by the staff member prior to the interaction. The “No Problem” auto-response places the staff member’s comfort ahead of service to the customer. Expanding the auto-response for full meaning, “No Problem” becomes; “You are not creating a problem for me”. As a customer I want to feel that my interests are first and foremost in the mind of the staff member, not that I may have inconvenienced a staff member by being a customer.

The second problem with “No Problem” is that it consists of two negative words. In this case the customer is inferring from the auto-response that in fact the staff member has a problem with providing service. Stop reading for a moment and say the phrase “No Problem” out loud. Say it again with a pause of one second between words. Say it a third time, this time with a two second pause between words. In the last case is should be clear that the customer is being told No and that there is a Problem.

Why run the risk of having your customer end an interaction with a negative impression. “Chick-fil-A” is the best example I know of how to get it right. Actually “Chick-fil-A” gets customer service right on a number of levels. The opening of the interaction is a pleasant, “Hello, may I help you?” The post “Thank You” closing is not “No Problem” but rather “My Pleasure”. As a second exercise repeat both phrases, “No Problem” and “My Pleasure” using the same cadence and tone of voice. Which one makes you feel better? Which one would make your customer feel better? If you are really into testing this concept you can video tape customer interactions. Watch for the slightest difference facial expression between the “No Problem” and “My Pleasure” interactions.

Over the next five days make note of five times the auto-response “No Problem” is spoken to you and also note five times you realize you say the phrase yourself.

Is this just little stuff? Possibly, but great customer service is all about the little stuff.


Taking it Deeper:

“Eat Mor Chikin, Inspire more People”, S. Truett Cathy, 2002

Google “Chick fil A”

Chick-fil-A Cow Appreciation Day
Come into any Chick-fil-A restaurant dressed as a cow and receive a free combo meal. ... 2009 CFA Properties, Inc. Chick-fil-A®, Chick-fil-A Stylized®;
press Ctrl and click on

You Tube – Tim Hawkins –
Video 1 – Chick-fil-A
Video 2 Tim Hawkins- I work at Subway

After viewing the two videos do you think the little stuff matters?

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