Don’t Say “No Problem”

I wrote the core of this article three years ago, and it was so popular that I am dusting it off with some additional information and ideas. The article is about the habit of replying “No problem” when someone says “Thank you.”

Pay attention, and you will hear this phrase used very often, especially when people do a service for you. The practice sends a wrong signal, and represents a missed opportunity.

Here’s an example of why the phrase should be avoided.

My wife and I were out to dinner a while ago and ran into a very personable young waiter named Kyle. This young man was still in college, and he was working to earn money and looking for his future.

I really liked this waiter because he made great eye contact, and he was polite but not intrusive. He had one annoying habit that was a distraction from the otherwise stellar impression that he created, but he was unaware of the habit.

Every time he would do something, like refresh my water, I would say “Thank you,” and he would reply “No problem.” For a while I just let it pass and did not think about it, but eventually I recognized that his response was a habit that was undermining his good impression.

The statement “No problem” is really not a bad thing to say, but it does represent a missed opportunity to build rapport and trust with the other person.

Reason: the statement does not represent a proactive positive response to gratitude.

Instead, it reflects a kind of throw-away line that I, the customer, really do not matter much to him. The effect is very subtle, so the negative impression is not severe, but a more upbeat response or at least some variety of responses would work much better.

A simple “You’re welcome” would be better than “No problem,” but there could be hundreds of more creative and memorable statements the young man could have used that would further entrench the good impression we had of him. Remember, he has plenty of time to prepare creative comebacks because he pours water for people every day.

For example, in response to “thank you” after he poured the water, he might have said, “We double-filter all of our water before we serve it to our guests.” He could have blown me away with a statement like, “We never serve water that is warmer than 47 degrees.”

Another response might be “I view your glass as bottomless.” How about, “I’ve been watching to be sure you never run out.” Another tack might be to demonstrate respect by responding, “I am honored,” or “It’s my pleasure to be of service.”

The response of “no problem” also effectively closes the exchange and stops conversation. It may be possible to continue the exchange by asking an open ended question when presented with “Thank you.” For example, suppose the waiter had said, “This is special spring water; isn’t it the best tasting water you’ve had for a long time?” That would be a great way to not only differentiate the waiter but also the establishment.

The young waiter had to realize that he was serving expensive food to people who could afford it, so every night he was making impressions on people who could potentially influence his life. He was missing some valuable opportunities.

I took the time to compliment Kyle on his demeanor and give him some coaching on his habitual response to gratitude. He got the message and was truly thankful for it because he had never given the matter any thought. It was just something he was used to saying.

You may have the same habit or know someone else who does.

The response to a “Thank you” should be thought of as a great opportunity to differentiate yourself from the pack, whether you are in a customer service occupation or not. Don’t waste the opportunity with a throw-away line like, “No problem.”

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of: The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, and Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. For more information, or to bring Bob in to speak at your next event, contact him at http://www.Leadergrow.com, bwhipple@leadergrow.com or 585.392.7763

12 Responses to Don’t Say “No Problem”

  1. nexdec says:

    How about “no worries.” Another trust breaker.

  2. trustambassador says:

    I agree. “No worries” is almost the same thing as “no problem.”

  3. Bill Stark says:

    This is a millennial problem that I also encounter frequently and almost everywhere. If you want to avoid it, you can go stay at Ritz Carltons, Park Hyatts and most Marriott Resorts. Go to restaurants that allow servers to make a good wage-where you have professional staff, and not young adults working there until a better job is in the offing.

    I’ve talked to my three, millennial nephews and nieces. They think it’s okay to use “no problem” instead of “you’re welcome, my pleasure, etc.” My coaching was useless. If you go to a restaurant that’s high end, and you hear “no problen” in response to your thank you, blame the parents, blame the owner, and move on.

  4. Deborah D'Aurora says:

    I agree with your article and appreciate your effort to mentor this young man. My particular pet peeve is when my husband and I are referred to as “you guys” by staff who are serving us in some capacity. My husband will sometimes gesture to me and gently say ” Excuse me, does she look like a guy to you?” Which is frequently met with a confused look, likely due to the fact that they don’t even realize what they just said. Once again these are simply automatic responses and not real attempts to converse or “serve”.

  5. Esperanza Waits says:

    How about learning to assume best intentions instead? Every single one of these opinion pieces I have encounteres about what people should or should not say assume the worst intentions. Additionally, the author seems to ignore that communication is a 2-way street. If you are not clear about what someone meant to say, ask him.

    Nobody has a right to not be offended. If one is offended by what one assumes someone’s intent is, that is one’s own issue to handle. It is the offended person’s turn to vount to 10 and critically examine what occurred. Did the person saying “no problem” truly mean it in any way other than to say “you are welcome” or “prego” or “mais oui” or “de nada”…?

  6. Daniel Potwin says:

    His response of “no problem” isn’t brushing you off, but rather an act of humbleness for you acknowledging him for doing his job. I respect someone more for their humbleness of doing their job over someone with an expectation for acknowledgement. As a veteran, I do my job because it’s my job. If you get a perceived benefit from me doing my job, then I’m glad for you because it really was “no problem” for me.

    • trustambassador says:

      Thanks Daniel. I personally like “my pleasure” as a better expression of humbleness. The phrase, “no problem” may mean that he was assuming I thought it would be a problem for me but was trying to assure me that it was not. That is a kind of put down that was not necessary. One lady in another forum uses the retort when someone responds “no problem.” She says, “I did not think it would be a problem, do you want me to make it one?” I think that is a bit over the top.

  7. Phil says:

    This is more to do with the perception, background and perhaps culture of the writer than the waiter.For me it defines a position that there is no issue to small he can help with. Indeed on numerous trips to the USA, the term ‘you’re welcome’ is a phrase that began to grind on me because it was the throw away response . However in the UK you’re welcome is less widely used, so this is my perception and ‘my problem’.

  8. trustambassador says:

    Thank you, Phil.

  9. I have worked in the hospitality industry for 33 years. The phrase “No Problem” came on to the scene about 15 years ago. It was kind of cool and many adopted it as the proper way to communicate to guests that we did not have a problem with serving them. I always wonder if I was a problem but since I was finished and leaving that I was no longer a problem anymore.

    I serve with an organization that is committed to extend Honor, Dignity and Respect to our guests and team members. We learned from Horst Schulze former Chairman of the Ritz Carlton Hotels. Horst is the creator of “My Pleasure”. Horst feels there is no higher statement we can offer our guests than “My Pleasure”. He absolutely wanted to make sure that every guest received the statement “My Pleasure”. I have know Horst for 15 years and I asked him one day about how he was able to have every member of the staff use the phrase “My Pleasure”. He very quickly told me that the staff did not have to use the phrase. He also said that if the staff member could not incorporate “My Pleasure” into their vocabulary they could not serve at the Ritz Carlton. I thought that was a very simple solution. I give my team members the same friendly advice when they become a member of our team.

    The organization I serve with delivers the very statement “My Pleasure” 10 million times per week in our units nationwide. I am so proud to be a part of an organization that extends that level of hospitality to each and every guest.

  10. Andrew Brady says:

    We had a great conversation about this in my Masters program last year, but I had forgotten about it until I read your blog, Bob. Thanks for the reminder. I too often find myself saying “no worries.”

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