Monday, January 23, 2012

"You're welcome" vs. "No problem" revisited

I've blogged before about the nuances of "you're welcome" vs. "no problem" as a response to "thank you".

But reading this story from Not Always Right gave me some sudden insight on why the "you're welcome" people don't like being told "no problem": they want it to be a problem!

They seem to be interpreting "you're welcome" as "you are welcome [in the sense of "entitled"] to impose upon me by making this request of me", and see a "no problem" as implying that they are not entitled to that. "No problem" is equalizing, "you're welcome" is subservient.

I use "no problem" specifically because it is equalizing, in an attempt to neutralize the burden of gratitude in the other party. I'm saying "It's okay, we're cool, you don't owe me any gratitude, I'm not putting this on your tab." This is what I like in customer service and in life in general, so I try to give it to others.

It makes me feel welcome in the literal sense, the same way I'm welcome in, say, my parents' home. I'm totally allowed to walk in and fix myself a drink and rummage through the fridge. In a customer service context, it makes me feel like they're giving me good service because I'm just as cool as they are, not because I'm above them. Because they like me, not because they are obligated to serve me. They're saying "Hey, it's you! How are you doing? Do you want a coffee?" rather than doing their job and rolling their eyes at me when I leave. And, while it is totally their prerogative to just do the job and roll their eyes at me when I leave, I'd much rather have them like me.

But the "you're welcome" people don't seem to care about that, they seem to prefer to be treated with deference, liked for their position rather than for themselves.


B. Hrebec said...

This is so very true. I dislike most fancy restaurants and hotels specifically for this reason; they seem calculated entirely to make the customer feel more important than the employee in every way. But as you say, I suppose there are a substantial number of people who honestly prefer deference. I can't imagine living like that, though, and suspect some nasty classism lurking below the surface of this issue.

laura k said...

why the "you're welcome" people don't like being told "no problem": they want it to be a problem!

Not in my case. I strongly prefer "you're welcome", because I don't want it to be a problem or a not-problem. I want it to be the person's job. To me, "no problem" implies that it might be a problem, but don't worry, s/he's doing it anyway - a special favour. And I'm not asking for anything special, I'm just asking for what I see as normal, baseline customer service.

I also feel "no problem" is too familiar. This is not a class issue, but an issue of mutual respect. We're not friends, we're conducting a small business transaction. Let's be friendly and polite, but let's keep an appropriate distance.

In both my jobs (law firm and library) there is a strong customer service element. When I am thanked, I alway say "you're welcome". If I'm especially thanked, like "wow, thanks so much!", I say, "You're very welcome" or "You're most welcome".

I feel it would be slightly disrespectful and to say "no problem" when I am simply doing my job.

laura k said...

they seem calculated entirely to make the customer feel more important than the employee in every way.

I interpret this as designed to try to give the customer a very special time - no class issues, no deference, no "more important". Just: this is a big treat for you, and we want it to be a really good one. Excellent customer service can be also friendly and equal (not classist).

impudent strumpet said...

That's interesting. Do you also stick to the script on please/thank you/I'm sorry when you're trying to intensify them?

laura k said...

What do you mean, stick to the script? Like, "I'm so, so sorry", or "Thank you so very much"?

laura k said...

Btw, although I don't care for 'no problem', I would never take anyone to task for it like the woman in the Not Always Right story you linked to. The reaction sounds fake to me, but if it's real, she's insane.

impudent strumpet said...

In my previous post, I talked about how when I'm feeling the please/thank you/you're welcome/I'm sorry sentiments more strongly, I'm less likely to use those actual words and more likely to use a bunch of other words of my own choosing. (And that's the essential sentiment behind my saying "No problem" in the first place.) When I use the words I was taught as a child, I'm more often saying it by rote without any particularly strong sentiment behind it.

I was wondering if, since you don't skew towards "No problem", you also keep the other basic scripts when the sentiment is especially strong.

laura k said...

OK thanks, I see what you mean now. I never think of this as a script I was taught in childhood. For me it's a work-ethic issue, a do-unto-others issue, and a customer-service issue.

Your perspective will help me feel more tolerant of no-problemers, though.