The problem with “No problem”…

This past week I received an interesting note from an old college buddy, Pete Walsh, who is also a frequent visitor to ideationz. He commented about the fact that when you say “Thank you” to a cashier or server or customer service employee, the most common response seems to be “No problem!” So why would this be worth discussing in the first place? Well, Pete’s point (which I agree with completely) is that we are losing our sense of courtesy and appreciation in many levels of social and/or economic interactions.

One might question (as Pete did) as to why it should be a “problem” for a retail employee to take your money in the first place? If there is no reason why a “problem” should exist in a retail exchange, then why would a store clerk be compelled to assure the customer that there is “no problem”? Why not respond back to the customer with a mutual acknowledgement (“Thank you” for being our customer), or, better yet, to make the customer feel a little special (“My pleasure” in serving you today). Or, simply acknowledge the customer with a sincere response (“You’re welcome”) and move on.

Responding with “no problem” implies that on some level the store employee had to go out of his or her way to process a transaction, which is the reason the retailer exists in the first place. The reply seems both inappropriate and odd. My curiosity piqued, I kept a tally of six exchanges that I encountered with cashiers, mostly of a demographic between 16-25 years old, somewhat evenly split between male and female. In three of the six instances, I was told “No problem” when I thanked a store employee. In one situation, I was ignored completely by the clerk. In one exchange, upon my thanking the store employee, the response was “Next!” And in one retailer, my “Thank you” was treated to a seemingly genuine “Thank you”. One in six is not impressive.

Granted this is not a scientific study of contemporary mannerisms, but it does raise some interesting questions for retail management to ponder. One, if you can’t rely on your (largely millennial) employees to interact appropriately or courteously to your customers, there might be a training need that should be considered.  Second, if a courteous and appropriate employee is becoming less visible in today’s marketplace, then there might be an opportunity to differentiate your business by nurturing and encouraging simple rules of etiquette.

I suspect that Pete is not the first person to have been put off by this apparent trend.  I would be curious where you stand on the matter. Are you comfortable with being informed that providing minimum service in exchange for your money is “no problem”? Is this another indication of eroding social mores, or is it really just “no problem” at all? What do you think?

5 responses to “The problem with “No problem”…

  1. Well Rick, and Pete I do consider this a problem that is quite universal. Until you brought it to my attention, naturally I was thinking it’s “no problem” and the norm. Training is one avenue to educate people on proper etiquette, but this common courtesy of saying a simple “thank you” starts early in our years as we all should have been taught to say:please, thank you, yes, no, etc. It was branded into my brain and I branded it into my kid’s brain. It does require some extra effort, and in my opinion – the individual who is a little more courteous can only benefit from someone who will actually take notice and recognize that politeness.

  2. Thanks, Trish, for coming by (again!) and for sharing your thoughts. As consumers, we have been conditioned to set our expectations pretty low. That said, if I owned a retail business, I would shoot for a culture of positivity, courtesy, appreciation, and respect. That simple platform would give me a leg up on most any competition. Particularly as ecommerce migrates from being the exception to become the norm, any retail interaction needs to be as satisfying as possible to keep the corner stores viable.
    Hope to see you soon in Philly!!

  3. I’ve worked in retail for years. I normally say thank you but on occasion will give a “No Problem!” It’s more of a saying not an implication and for some it’s just a natural tendency because that individual has been saying it for so long. But I will definitely pass it on. lol

  4. Thanks “t”… love your blog btw ( and your homage to Nora Ephron (the world is a little bit of a lesser place in her absence). As for the matter at hand, I get that people will on occasion use the phrase, “No problem!”, and I confess to having done it myself. As a consumer, you hear it everywhere you go, and it does wear thin quickly.
    Keep up the great looking blog, and I look forward to hearing and reading more from you. Thank you, again!

  5. Saying “no problem” can be appropriate if the other person is apologizing, but if they are thanking you, it can actually be fairly rude.

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