Get automatic updates delivered straight to your inbox.

Connect with Steve Sipress


The One Word That Can Kill Your Business


I don’t watch a lot of television, but when I do, I love to watch entrepreneur-related shows.

I’ve been a fan of the CBS-TV show “Undercover Boss” since its U.S. debut on Super Bowl Sunday two years ago. 10 days ago, I watched Stephen Cloobeck, Chairman and CEO of timeshare giant Diamond Resorts International, explain his business philosophy “The Meaning Of Yes.”

Essentially, this means that Diamond Resorts employees always seek to say “yes” to its customers, resulting in “a relentless commitment to customer service.”

Of course, such a philosophy is crucial in the hospitality industry, but it certainly applies to every business.

It’s an unfortunate fact of our increasingly impersonal culture that simply providing basic customer service is a powerful differentiating factor in the marketplace. If your business adopts a policy of seeking to please every customer, you will be in a position of tremendous advantage over your competition that offers only an impersonal, lackluster or unsatisfactory customer experience.

Even if you can’t always say “yes” to any request, one of the most important things you can do as a business owner is to manage the expectations of your customers, clients or patients.

That being said, with this concept of “The Meaning Of Yes” fresh in my mind, I feel compelled to share a recent personal experience of mine that stands as a cautionary tale for all small business owners and entrepreneurs.

On a friend’s recommendation, I reserved a suite in a luxury resort hotel on a recent business trip to meet with an out-of-state client. I was told that the resort had recently emerged from bankruptcy, and was a beautiful property looking to make a clean start.

Unfortunately, my experience was more telling of why the company went into bankruptcy, instead of how they will rebound from it. Later, I was informed by one candid employee that while the resort had new ownership, it was still under the same poor management. Here’s my personal horror story…

When I first pulled up to the entrance, there was no valet or bellhop in sight – in fact, there was a couple who told me they had been waiting for an attendant to show up for over 15 minutes. So, after my own short wait, I proceeded to unload my own bags out of the trunk of my rental car and carry them into the lobby myself.

(As I was standing at the check in counter, an out-of-breath young man came running up behind me, explaining that he had been on his lunch break when I pulled up. A valid excuse for him personally, but that did little to overcome my negative first impression of the resort. Only one valet/bellhop for a property with over 400 rooms? And no one to cover for him on his lunch break? Really??)

LESSON: Are you properly prepared to handle the number of customers you plan to acquire? As my companies grow, I am always quick to add additional staff to handle customer inquiries and problems. After a booming 2011, I have already hired three additional customer service assistants here in January 2012, with plans to add at least two more in the very near future.

Not a great introduction to the resort, however I had not yet heard the deadly word “no.” That was about to change – and change drastically. Before I would unpack a single item in my suite, I would hear the word “no” more than my rambunctious cocker spaniel on his most rebellious day…

  • Could I check upon my early arrival three hours prior to the regular 4:00pm check-in time? “No.”
  • Wasn’t there even a single empty suite available? “No.” (The front desk clerk had the audacity to lie to me that the hotel was full, when I knew full well that it was operating at only about 25% capacity.)
  • Had the maids cleaned and prepared even one single suite in the three hours since the 11:00am check-out time? “No.”
  • While I waited, was there any hotel information I could read (I asked, pointing to a stack of such material right in front of me at the front desk)? “No.” (Of course, I was later handed that exact material with my room key tucked inside when I was finally allowed to check in.)
  • Could I please be seated outside at the hotel restaurant when I decided to grab some lunch while waiting to be allowed to check in? “No.” (Changed to a “yes” when I politely refused to eat indoors, offering to stand in the middle of the near-empty restaurant and wait for an outside table to become available.)
  • Could I be placed into a suite with one of the hotel’s famous spectacular views? Here’s where I heard my first “yes” – but unfortunately it was a case of over-promising and under-delivering, as it took no fewer than three moves of me and my luggage to finally put me into one such suite.

The annoyances continued, as I had to make no less than four calls to the front desk for items which should already have been in my suite, such as hangers and an internet cable. (I was promised a wireless router to make up for all my troubles – but it never came, despite repeated assurances over the remainder of my stay.)

Overall, the resort and its employees were extremely impressive. But it was unfortunately a case of “too little, too late” to make up for my initial hours of frustration upon my arrival. Do you think I’ll ever consider returning to that resort, or referring others to it? Not a chance, of course.

LESSON: Even if your initial knee-jerk reaction to a customer request is “no”, as business owners we must train ourselves and our representatives to approach every customer request with an attitude of “Can I figure out a way to make that happen?”

A response of “Let me see if I can do that for you” will go a long way toward gaining favor with prospects and customers, especially in this difficult economy when everyone is much more careful how and with whom we spend our money than ever before. But the attitude of “No, that can’t be done” can absolutely kill your business.

Should you adopt such a dangerous mindset towards prospect and customer requests? My simple advice: “No.”

2 Responses to The One Word That Can Kill Your Business

  1. Felicia Slattery Reply

    January 25, 2012 at 11:57 am

    Hi Steve-
    That’s just poor management plain and simple. Last year I wrote a blog post about an exact opposite situation — one where I was treated like gold– at of all places a Best Western! From needing the shuttle driver to stop at the drug store for me to pick up something I’d left home, to arriving early and asking for a room hours before check-in, to needing the staff to make reservations at a local restaurant for lunch and depart from their regular shuttle schedule I was told YES at every opportunity.

    While I don’t go to that area often at all, I’ve been looking for a reason to return just so I can stay at that property again.

    I’ve also personally witnessed you going out of your way to say yes to me when you could well have said no. You certainly practice what you preach, sir! I’m grateful for that!
    Felicia Slattery

  2. Steve Sipress Reply

    January 25, 2012 at 6:06 pm

    Felicia: Thanks for the kind words. I was thinking that this makes two weekly blog posts in a row about crummy service I’ve received. Looking forward to sharing some success stories like your Best Western one above in the near future.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *