Why are we so fond of bad news? It’s like that morbid compulsion to crane your neck at an auto accident to see if–heaven forbid!–anyone was seriously injured, and then breathe a sigh of relief that it wasn’t you (though if you crane your neck far enough, it might be!). We watch the headlines with the same morbid fascination, shaking our heads and clucking our tongues at some stranger’s (or strangers’) misfortunes.

We watch and drool…until the bad news finds its way to our doorstep.

With a wink and a smile...

With a wink and a smile...

These days, there’s an awful lot of bad news to go around, and it has a pervasive and profoundly negative effect on our morale. 

Just as we crane our necks guiltily at that awful traffic accident, we scan the headlines looking for more bad news, and isn’t it awful? But we could choose to exercise our will and just drive on, knowing that the emergency crews who are trained for this sort of thing are doing what needs to be done. There’s nothing to see here, move along…

In the same way, we can choose to turn our backs on the bad news and instead concentrate on the good that’s around us. Because it’s everywhere, despite what the news headlines would have us believe. Instead of mourning the dying, let’s celebrate the living; instead of lamenting the state of the economy, let’s celebrate the fact that we have friends and neighbors we can help and who can help us—in fact, if we reached out to each other more, and came up with creative “workarounds”, so to speak, I’d be willing to bet that we’d be in much better shape. Likewise, instead of waging war, whether abroad or at home, if we approached problems in the spirit of cooperation, we would not feel the need to hurt one another to get our way.

So, too, in the spirit of cooperation, we can learn to say “yes” to any number of things!

I’m in the process of writing a course on Helpdesk best practices, and that kind of attitude is so important to the job that I gave the topic its own entire chapter. “Attitude is everything,” it begins, “and can make the difference between a lost customer (who turns around and shares their bad experience with ten friends) and a repeat customer who is loyal for life.” You think that’s hyperbole? Think again.

When I first started as a wet-behind-the-ears technical support representative (@?! years ago), I heard a story about my much-lauded predecessor. One of her keys to success, I was told, was a small mirror over her phone. She would smile and wink at herself every time she went to pick up a call. 

We newbies all laughed at the story, of course—it sounded tremendously egotistical to wink at your own reflection! But it worked, and here’s why: the customer on the other end of the line heard a smile right from the outset. This support rep liked herself, or at least projected the attitude thereof, and she brought her customers with her along that upward path.  She gave out the same answers as the rest of the support team, but those answers were always delivered with good humor, calm and self-respect. She knew that she was treating her customers the way she herself would want to be treated—what better illustration of the oft-maligned and sorely neglected Golden Rule?

Somewhere along the way we have all, I hope, encountered that support person or someone like her: likable, helpful and who seems to go above and beyond.  It’s a refreshing change from the all-too-typical help desk representative who treats us with disdain (“I can’t believe you don’t know the answer!”), carelessness (“It’s not our problem”) or moodiness (“You think you’ve got problems?! You should hear what my boyfriend/girlfriend/dog said this morning!”).

Here’s a hint, and this is serious: the customer does not care if you are having a bad hair day, and has no desire to hear even a hint of your life story. So leave it at the door. Better yet, leave it at home. What your customer does care about is that you help him or her. You may have the answer to a persistent and troublesome issue, and wouldn’t you rather come out looking like a hero rather than a punk?

Caution: being a hero does not mean wading in with sword in air, slashing at anything that moves.  Being a hero does mean wading in knowing that you may not be able to slay that particular dragon—you may not even know where to start—and nevertheless making the attempt, perhaps even learning a thing or two along the way.

Something else my predecessor had: she spoke well, handled situations smoothly, and—probably the most remarkable—had the ability to tell a customer that something couldn’t be done, but say it so nicely that they thanked her! I learned a great lesson from her: how to say “yes” even when the answer is “no”—which sounds impossible and is, I’ll admit, often a real challenge.

This is a pretty specific example, but it goes something like this: a customer calls requesting an action or feature you can’t provide or that is not yet available. You could say “I can’t do that,” and you may even have heard that yourself when calling for support somewhere. 

Customers call because they want a solution to the problem about which they’re calling, whether they’re calling to buy something or calling for support on something they have already bought. Instead of using negative language such as “can’t,” “not” or “no,” you’ll send customers away happier if you put responses in positive language.

Think about this response, and why, if you heard it, you would feel a lot better about the call: “We get a lot of requests for that feature, and we’re working on it. Thanks for your feedback! It will be available in a future version.” 

Now broaden your perspective a bit and think about ways you can apply that kind of response in your own business. Break loose from saying “no” and find ways to say “yes!”

“Yes” can save your business. It challenges you to come up with a creative solution, instead of just tossing your hands in the air and giving up. You are juiced, your customers are happier, they come back because they found someone who wants to help them.

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