The Yes – No Continuum for Bosses and Customers

The Harvard Business Review' has an article that reviews the difficulties faced by many managers in “getting to no” which they term as the "process for agreeing on what not to do" when dealing with tasks delegated by superiors.  The authors of the piece note that people frequently are "encouraged to be team players and responsive to colleagues" which makes it "seem counter-intuitive or even selfish to encourage managers to say no more often".  Nevertheless that is what they urge pointing out that while saying yes to every assignment may initially please the bosses it usually leaves "people over-stressed and inundated with work — a lot of which ends up half-finished or forgotten and "in the long run, no one is happy".

A key way to avoid getting onto a relentless treadmill of assignments is to learn how to "get to no" for both the individual's success as well as that of the firm. That, they point out, "requires tradeoffs as it is not possible to please everyone or even one person all the time.  "For example, if a new strategic project becomes top priority, managers need to ask what tradeoff should be made to accommodate it. And it’s important to engage in these dialogues regularly."

It is not a stretch to apply the foregoing precepts to a firm's "real" bosses – customers and deliver better service.  Too often, particularly in the Far East and South Asia customers, demanding and not, end up being promised goods and services that associates and managers fail to deliver on. That appears to stem largely from a desire to please both bosses, the employer and customer without fully considering the entire workplace framework and institutional capacity to deliver. Some hotels exemplify that gap as they strive to meet demanding customers who don't take no for an answer while also dealing with a culture that views a "no" as "disrespectful".  India and China are good examples of the latter with some Indian hotels being notorious for "over-promising" : A browse through Tripadvisor reviews of leading hotels in both countries (and a few others) easily underscores that.

Hoteliers in some of the above situations could improve upon service delivery through a combination of strategies ranging from empathizing with a customer who won't take no for an answer while not taking the easy way out by saying yes.  Empathizing requires trying to understand the customer's viewpoint while also conveying one's limitations inoffensively.  Another palliative is to offer an alternative as in a situation where a queen bed is unavailable by unhesitatingly offering another bed type with a promise to try and move them up when available. 

Asking a customer, even an irate one whose request is beyond one's wherewithal, how best to satisfy him/her the next time is a way of lowering the temperature while also serving to mitigate the situation.  In sum, as the HBR authors suggest saying "yes" in the short term leads to a no-no for the long term.

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Vijay Dandapani

Co-founder and president of a New York based hotel company for 24 years. Grew the firm to five hotels in Manhattan and also developed a greenfield project at MacArthur airport, New York. Speaker at numerous prestigious forums including Economy Hotels World Asia, Lodging Conference, NYU, Columbia University Real Estate Roundtable, Baruch College's Zicklin School and ALIS. President and ceo of New York City Hotel Association since January 2017.

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