Last night, I stopped at three separate hardware stores in town, with returns that were well past the official return window.
And at each store, as I approached the returns counter, I started with the exact same words…
“No is always an acceptable answer, but…”
I’ll tell you what happened at each store in a minute, but first, where I got this phrase.
Around 2007ish, the company I was working for at the time hired an ad agency. Our creative contact was a character from Seattle named David Levy.
There were a million things to like about David, and so if I saw his number on the caller ID, I was happy to pick up and answer.
And every time I did…
David would start by asking, “Roy, do you have a couple minutes to talk? And no is always an acceptable answer.”
He meant it, too. He was, of course, happy that I picked up the phone. And yet he always gave me that out, to return his call or schedule another one. Even when I told him that I only picked up the phone when I was available to take the call. He just kept asking, and giving me the out.
I told him the first time he said it that the phrase was brilliant, on many levels.
By giving someone an out like that, it tells them that you respect that they are going to make their own decision. You’re giving them that respect. And because of that, they instantly respect you more. Using this unique combination of words makes you instantly more likable to the other person.
And this is especially important when you’re asking them to go out of their way to help you…
In fact, it’s in these other situations that I’ve found this phrase even more powerful. When someone has to exert significant efforts with minimal reward in order to help me.
Here’s how I used this phrase to get $185 last night…
We started remodeling our master bath shortly after we bought our house in 2011. I was doing it — occasionally — on weekends. (I probably shouldn’t do much remodeling, because it takes me so dang long — that’s why I have roofers out today redoing our roof.)
Anyway, I finally got done with the remodeling in mid-2013. And that, only with a LOT of help from my father-in-law. (Thank goodness!)
And there was a ton of tile we’d bought. Even with best estimates, I ended up over-ordering. (Because it was special order, this was preferred to under-ordering. I couldn’t just run back out to the store to pick up more.)
Other pressing projects came up, and the tile found its way to the corner of our garage.
And then, a couple weeks back and now two years later, I found the tile (along with a couple other items that needed to be returned), and decided it was time to try to return it — with a little help on the decision from my wife!
I was headed to the hardware store last night anyway, so I loaded up the returns, and decided I’d hit all three stores in a row (they’re 15 minutes away from us, but all within about 5 minutes of each other).
First Lowes, where I had two boxes of tile, and no receipt…
“No is always an acceptable answer, but…” It got an immediate smile. And then the guy went to work for the next 5 minutes trying to get me a refund. Eventually a manager vetoed it because the tiles were no longer something they stocked, and they couldn’t find any evidence in their computer of the order.
Strike out at the first place. But, as I said, that was an acceptable answer.
It had been two years, and I didn’t even have a receipt.
Then Home Depot, where I had 6 boxes of tile, including some very nice trim — along with a receipt for some of it, but not all…
“No is always an acceptable answer, but…” Again, an immediate smile. And the gal who was working there then spent the next 30 minutes getting me about $150 in store credit as a refund.
First, the tile I had the receipt for (the three boxes of trim) wasn’t in the system, like at Lowes. I wrote off getting the refund for it, but she said she wasn’t done.
She was able to get me a return for the other three boxes, worth $50 in immediate store credit. She asked if I had some shopping to do, which I did, and told me she was going to talk to a manager on the other tile. I could do my shopping, and come back when I was done.
When I took off to do my shopping, she took off across the store to talk to her manager. When I eventually came back, having spent nearly every dollar of the first $50 refund, she had an answer.
She’d talked to her manager, and was able to get me a return. Another couple minutes, and she told me she had another $100 refund for me. I’d written off getting ANYTHING for the tile, so this was a great surprise!
Confident, I took off for the next store…
Menards, where I had two bathroom fixtures we’d opted against, in favor of other options — and a receipt for only one of them.…
“No is always an acceptable answer, but…” Again, a smile! And again, a helpful clerk who this time had no problem issuing both refunds.
Another $35 worth of store credit.
Could I have gotten this $185 without my magic words?
After all, I took the items to the return counter, in every instance. They all have policies for dealing with returns, including returns beyond the standard return window.
But their printed, public policy for returns is that you have to have the receipt. And certainly, you’d think it’s only fair they not take returns on items they don’t stock any more.
In every single case, I could have gotten “no.”
And as I told each person when I first asked them to help me, “No is always an acceptable answer.” Before I asked, I had already accepted the possibility that they could simply reject my request, and I’d be taking the tile and other merchandise home.
But in every case — including at Lowes, where I would end up getting my only “no” — they were exceedingly helpful after I asked in this way.
And especially at Home Depot, where I got the most money in returns, it represented significant effort on the part of the employee to help me out. That was a choice on their part. And I believe they made that choice because I started from a position of giving them respect. Of telling them that I’d respect their decision, whether it was in my favor or not.
Knowing the right words to say is what makes me so valuable, and can change your life, too…
I make my living by knowing the right words to say. Words like these, that put the recipient on your side, instead of against you.
The right words can completely disarm a tense situation, or light a spark when a fire is necessary.
They can help you get your way — in business or your personal life.
There are many reasons to grow your catalog of these “magic words,” and many situations where you’ll find them useful, that you never would have expected in the first place.
Quick Gary Halbert and Joe Polish side story, then a book recommendation for more of these “magic words”…
For those of you who don’t know, Joe Polish became legend in the business world by helping carpet cleaners sell more than $1 billion worth of their services with direct response marketing. That was before Genius Network, his $25k Group, and the I Love Marketing podcast.
Early in his business, Joe hired Gary Halbert, one of the best copywriters to ever walk this earth, to write ads for him.
Since Joe was able to parlay this copy (with permission) into copy his carpet cleaner marketing clients could use as well, Joe could afford Gary’s high fees.
Joe used a lead generation ad, urging homeowners to call a phone number for a free recorded message, as the start of his marketing funnel.
The headline Gary wrote was, “Free recorded message reveals how to have your carpets cleaned properly, at the lowest possible price.”
There’s a magic word in there, that Joe pointed out one time…
And it’s not “Free” or “lowest possible price.” To some degree, those are all staples of service advertising, and weren’t differentiators.
No, it was Gary’s use of the word “properly” that gave Joe’s ad instant distinction.
The ad went on to promise that if you were to call for this free recorded message, you’d learn how most carpet cleaners offering free rooms, low-price offers, and more, did so primarily to stiff the consumer… And how if you wanted to have your carpets cleaned properly, while still not paying an arm and a leg, there were some things you needed to know.
“Properly” was the magic word that set Joe’s ad apart among a sea of other carpet cleaning ads, and was a large part of why over $1 billion in services were sold with Joe’s help.
Again, magic words are powerful…
Now here’s a quick book recommendation if you want to learn more of these “magic words” that help you get more of everything you want in your life, easier…
Now this book is a little bit old. And there aren’t a ton of copies floating around. So if you want it, you should expect to pay a bit more than your average book.
And even when you get it, you may at first be turned off. Because things like getting a free upgrade to first class — quite possible in 1995 when the book was published — have become much more difficult today, no matter what magic words you use.
But there are many lessons in the book that still apply. Certainly including everything about how to write effective sales copy.
In addition to a ton of content on writing sales letters and ad copy, there’s suggestions for what to say to get priority treatment at your favorite restaurant, be attractive to members of the opposite sex, have employers salivating over you, get investors for a new business, land high-quality speaking gigs, get great deals while shopping for jewelry, and score high-paying consulting gigs — and more!
The book is by one of the direct marketing legends of today, Ted Nicholas. And you may not know it yet, but you already know its title… Magic Words That Bring You Riches.
Yours for bigger breakthroughs,
Editor, Breakthrough Marketing Secrets
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