The importance of a 'can do' approach in customer service (Article)

Custom Search

Derek Stockley is a training and performance management consultant based in Melbourne, Australia. He conducts in-house and public training courses.(Google+).

This free article examines the importance of offering positive outcomes even if the original expectations of customers cannot be met.

Focus on the positive aspects in customer service

There are many situations where the customer cannot have what they want. The product or service may not exist. It may not be possible in the time frame the customer wants. There may be an organisational policy or rule that says no.

In these situations, the response of the customer service person should be helpful, not negative. A simple "no" is not good enough. Customer service is about meeting needs. Sometimes, those needs can be met in different ways to what the customer was expecting.

One of the methods used by Bob Ansett to build the Budget car rental business was his can do philosophy. This approach meant that every transaction should be approached with a can do response. In the fullness of time this has been modified to 'can do if at all possible'. The important issue is the positive attitude and the interaction with the customer.

What happens if someone says "no" to us. We react negatively. In a customer service situation where we want or expect something, we may even become upset or angry.

If the "no" is followed or preceded by "we can do this", it can significantly reduce the negative impact. Customer service is about meeting needs and sometimes needs are different to wants.

A customer who has run out of widgets walks into a store wanting to buy 100. If the store only has 25, this customer 'want' cannot be met. If the store is expecting a delivery of 300 next week, and the customer only uses 10 widgets a week, the customer 'need' can be met. The customer walks out with 25 widgets today and arrangements are made for the 75 to be picked up next week.

A can do customer service person will find a solution that meets the customer needs. A 'no' person will let the customer walk out to try another store.

The can do approach is about:

  • Being positive

  • Separating needs from wants

  • Looking for what can be achieved for the customer

  • Finding complete solutions where possible or partial solutions if that is all that can be done

Can do customer service people:

  • Explain what the policy/regulation/law allows the customer to do.

  • Think 'outside the square' - sometimes you have to be innovative and flexible.

  • Use 'work arounds' to get the job done.

To achieve the can do approach, customer service people need to be supported by the organisational climate and culture. Your policies and rules have to have a can do focus. The emphasis should be on establishing the boundaries and limits, but giving and authorising as much flexibility as possible.

Even if the need cannot be met, a can do person will leave a far more positive impression on the customer.


"We can’t do that" is not good enough. Customer service people should say "I'm sorry, that is not possible, but what we can do is .......". Positive and helpful customer service requires a positive "we will help you if we can" attitude, even if the help is different to what the customer was expecting or hoping for. Customer service requires constant attention on the positives, not the negatives.

Related reading

Did you miss it?

The importance of internal branding to support exceptional customer service is growing - identifies the growing importance of internal branding. The relationship to successful change programs promoting a positive culture and climate for organisations is also explained.

To review the newsletter, see: Listing of recent newsletter articles. All articles relate to a performance theme, but individual newsletters cover a specific topic. Themes include customer service, leadership, management, website marketing and time management. You can see all articles in chronological order at: Listing of newsletter articles in chronological order.

You can publish this article, see: Publication.

Derek Stockley conducts in-house customer service training and consulting, see customer service training and consulting.

Derek Stockley conducts public training courses in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane and Perth .

These Ads appear as part of our monitoring of internet activity.