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Let Customers Know What You Can Do

Recently, as I waited for my order in a Tim Horton’s donut shop, I overheard part of a conversation that reminded me of a song by Frank Silver and Irving Cohn, that begins:

There's a fruit store on our street
It's run by a Greek.
And he keeps good things to eat
But you should hear him speak!
When you ask him anything, he never answers “no”.
He just “yes”es you to death, and as he takes your dough
He tells you
“Yes, we have no bananas
We have-a no bananas today.”

A woman behind the counter, wearing a headset, was in conversation with a customer in the drive through line who had apparently ordered a dozen donuts. With an empty box balanced in her right hand, she attempted to fill his order with some obvious difficulty. I could hear her half of the conversation.

“No, we don’t have any of those today.”

“No, we don’t have any of those either.”

What she did next surprised me. It was a strategy intended to facilitate filling an order for a customer who could not see what donuts remained on display.

“Let me tell you what we don’t have today,” she proposed, before beginning to rattle off a list of donut varieties whose places on the shelves were empty.

At that point, a cup of tea was placed on the counter in front of me. I paid and walked away without seeing how this little drama concluded. As I sat down, I pondered what I had just witnessed.
Would it have not been more effective to list the varieties that were available? That approach might have been easier for the customer.

When customers come to us, they are looking for the solution to a problem. The problem can be as simple as the desire for a dozen donuts or a new pair of socks or as complex as vehicle repairs or a medical condition requiring treatment. Some may already have a solution in mind. What they want to hear is what we can do for them. Unfortunately, many service providers such as the woman behind the donut shop counter respond by saying no to the customer’s request, without suggesting any alternatives.

It would have been far better for her to have said, “Let me tell you what we have available today.” Most customers would interrupt her list with instructions to “Give me six honey glazed, three walnut crunch and...”

The Greek grocer immortalized by Silver and Cohn understood this:

“We've string beans, and onions
Cabashes, and scallions,
And all sorts of fruit and say
We have an old fashioned tomato
A Long Island potato
But yes, we have no bananas.
We have no bananas today.”


Nelson Scott offers several Customer Service Presentations, including Customer Service MAGIC: Changing Complainers into Loyal Customers; What Your Mother Taught You About Customer Service and other Training Resources developed by Service Quality Institute and the Vital Learning Corporation.


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A professional trainer, speaker, and consultant since 1995, Nelson Scott works with organizations that are committed to making the right hiring decisions, developing and retaining productive staff, and strengthening relationships with customers.  Learn more by visiting or e-mailing


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