One of the most overused words in the English language is also one of the shortest. In the context of Customer Experience, it is extremely likely that this word is regularly used when an unsatisfactory experience is ‘endured’ by a customer. The word NO contains only two letters, yet its meaning can have serious ramifications on the behaviour of your employees and as importantly your customers.

It is doubtful that you have ever taken the time to read the dictionary definition of a word that you are extremely likely to understand rather well! In case you are interested, the official definition of the most common use of the two letter word is as follows:

“A negative used to express dissent, denial, or refusal, as in response to a question or request.”

Sounds a little harsh, doesn’t it? As a parent, I must admit that I fall foul of using the word far too often. ‘Can I watch TV Dad?’……’NO’…….’why not?’……’because I said so!’ This, or a variation of it may seem familiar to many – it certainly is to me. We use the word NO without even thinking about it. In a way, it is an expression of control…..of power.

When a customer contacts a company to ask for help, hearing the words, ‘I am so sorry, but NO, we cannot help you with that’….leaves the recipient of the words, the customer, feeling no different to the child being told that they cannot watch TV. ‘Why can’t you do that?, the customer may ask….’it is not company policy (because we said so!)’, may be the response.

I dream of many things when it comes to the world of Customer Experience. Filling the world full of Customer Experience Professionals is one! Another of my dreams is to ‘ban’ the unnecessary use of the word NO. Maybe banning a word is not particularly reasonable, or feasible, but perhaps ‘re-defining’ it is. So just what do I mean?

What if your business were to mandate that all employees were only allowed to use the word ‘NO’ as a positive rather than a negative? Instead of:


Why not replace it with:


Instead of:


Try using:


See – it’s not really that difficult. In fact, asking your people to change the use of a word is very easy – the difficult bit is for your organisation to being authentic about the new definition. The reason why the word NO is overused by businesses is because they are not prepared to genuinely put the customer at the heart of everything they do – the definition of Customer Centricity.

customer centricity heart

Customer Centricity Definition


If you are genuinely Customer Centric, you will do whatever it takes to help your customer – you will not say NO. One of the world’s most customer centric organisations, Ritz Carlton Hotels, excel at this. All employees understand their relationship with customers – their ‘North Star’ – ‘Ladies and Gentlemen serving Ladies and Gentlemen’. What a lovely expression. All Ritz Carlton employees also understand the customer principles that guide this relationship:

  • Old fashioned values
  • Out of my way service
  • Anticipation and unexpressed wishes
  • Our way and proud (‘my pleasure’)

The word NO does not feature. They do not ever say NO – they say ‘my pleasure’ instead. It is not hard, if you trust your own ladies and gentlemen to serve other ladies and gentlemen.

ritz carlton memories

A couple of weeks ago, I had my hire car reservation cancelled by one of the most customer centric in their sector. Whilst they did not explicitly say NO, by cancelling my reservation without giving me any alternative was as good as saying it. If only the employees of this company had thought about re-defining ‘NO car’ into – no problem, let us see what we can do! You can read the story here and see what I mean.

As the opening quote sums up perfectly: “In life there are no problems – only solutions to be found.” If you can encourage your organisation to live and breathe this sentiment, you will not only be breathing life into your people, you will be ensuring that your customers are able to interact with a business that will do whatever it takes. It is a bold and courageous thing to ‘trust’ your people to do it, but one that if managed capably, could see them and your company flourish.


This post was originally written exclusively for my column, “Doing the Right Thing for Customers and Employees” on CustomerThink, a global online community of business leaders striving to create profitable customer-centric enterprises. The site serves 80,000+ visitors per month from 200 countries.