When is the “positive sandwich” appropriate to use?

Posted: 11th June, 2018 in Business writing & email etiquette, Case Studies, Communications, Customer Service, Personal effectiveness, Sales , Tips & Tricks, Training and mentoring

Many people will be familiar with the concept of the “Positive sandwich” and others may wonder what it is? 

Rather like a sandwich, the two pieces of bread represent positive feedback whilst the filling sitting in the middle signifies the negative comment or corrective action needed. 

Often, people use it to give someone negative feedback and make suggestions in the management of employees, in sales and customer service. 

I fully understand some people are sceptical of the concept, believing it may come across as pandering, false or by watering down the problem, making it an ineffective tool. It may be impractical at times, but I think this happens when we use it incorrectly or in the wrong circumstances.

From an employee performance perspective, there is an array of other more sophiscated methods we can use to manage and motivate staff. And whilst I believe the positive sandwich is effective, I appreciate there may be times some of these other tools may be better suited. Yet, I still see it as a versatile and hugely beneficial technique we can adapt in our day-to-day dealings with customers – especially in the area of sales and customer service. 

People are generally more receptive to positive and encouraging statements, so the idea is to begin the conversation with a positive comment or compliment helping to draw the other person in.  

As this stage, it can also be helpful to demonstrate understanding and show you have been listening by reiterating what they have said especially with customer complaints. This can reduce the unpleasantness and ease the tension when you need to deliver the negative filling. It is important to slow right down, show empathy and allow time for the information to sink in when delivering the bad news or negative comments. Sometimes you may need to apologise too.  An example includes:

Positive comment - “Jane, thank you for taking my call. I know you are waiting on the delivery of five boxes of paper, three packs of folders and two boxes of envelopes today. I am happy to confirm I have your order of paper and envelopes here ready to go…”

Negative comment“However, I am sorry to tell you we are still waiting on our supplier to deliver the folders to us…so unfortunately you won’t have them today….”

Naturally, you want to assure the customer and end on a high, so we finish with an encouraging or positive statement. Sometimes this may mean reconfirming what needs to get done, even if it a suggestion for the customer to carry out.

Positive statement “I can tell you, I have spoken with our supplier and he has assured me they will be delivered tomorrow. So I will send them straight out to you the following morning by 9am…In the meantime, let me get the rest of your order out to you today….”

In short, I believe we can successfully manage our customers using the positive sandwich if we apply these golden rules:

  • Be sincere and show understanding – in order to come across as credible, we need to make a connection. In your opening comments, show empathy and understanding for the other person’s feelings, need or perspective and then the customer will be more open to listening.
  • Be professional and don’t take it personally – be objective, conversational and keep showing understanding. Always keep negative statements neutral, especially when dealing with a problem. Leave aside your own feelings and focus on the other person.
  • Be specific and precise – Be specific about what you say and never be vague. Give real facts and clear instructions. Keep negative comments to a maximum of 1 to 2 points only, as people cannot handle much more at any one time.
  • Make your comments future and action orientated – when you finish up with the second positive statement, be encouraging and make suggestions to give people something to focus on. This may be your commitment, something they will do or what you will do together. Offer to help where appropriate. 
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