Customer Service: When You Have to Say No

Customer Service: When You Have to Say, "No"

Telling a customer "no" is never pleasant, and you should not do it unless absolutely necessary. There will be times you have to say it, and this article suggests ways to make a denial easier for the customer to understand and accept.

When "No" Is Needed 

Although it is nice to say, "The customer is always right," sometimes it simply is not feasible to fulfill a customer's request. Whether you cannot make a delivery deadline, are not able to issue a refund on an appliance that is no longer under warranty, or you simply do not have the authority to proceed, do not make the mistake of saying, "Yes," to satisfy the customer temporarily. It is far better to give a polite "no" than to make a promise you cannot keep.
Being open and honest with your customers will let them know your answer is not arbitrary or punitive. Be sure you let them know there is a reason behind any negative answer you give them. If a delivery cannot be there on Friday, explain that you use a carrier that does not reach that area of the country until Saturday from your ZIP code, then ask if you can follow up to make sure it does arrive on Saturday. They will know you do care about getting the order to them and that the delivery schedule is out of your hands.

Do not assume you cannot do something at the beginning of a customer service call. Get creative and find alternative solutions to the problem. If your customers want a particular item with a rush delivery, but you do not have it in stock, you have options.

Suggest a different, in-stock model that offers the features they need and can be delivered quickly. If they still want the originally ordered model, you can either let them know what date they can expect to receive it or direct them to another vendor who may have it in stock. It seems counter-intuitive to send a customer to the competition, but you will gain respect and loyalty from customers for their next purchase because they will remember that you put their needs above your sale.

Put a positive spin on any "no." If you cannot give the refund that a customer has asked for, perhaps you could send them a replacement item.

The following examples illustrate ways to end a refusal on a positive note:

"I'm sorry we aren't able to issue a refund on the dress without a receipt, but I would be glad to replace it. May I send you another dress in a color you may like better?"

"Although I'm not able to track that invoice myself, what I can do is check with our vendor and get back to you with more information. Would this help?"

"I'm sorry we aren't able to do the repair for free since the warranty is expired, but we'll be glad to send one of our repairmen to your home tomorrow and we can invoice you for the work. Would you like me to schedule this for you?"

Even when the answer has to be a simple, "No, we do not currently provide that service," you can add, "However, since this is something you're interested in, I'll be sure to bring it up at our next staff meeting. May I have your e-mail so that I can notify you when we are able to assist you in the future?"

Interested in learning more? Why not take an online Telephone Skills and Quality Customer Service course?

Do you see how this response generated contact information and let the caller know his or her needs are your concern? And do remember to bring up the possibility of something else you can do for the customer. You may discover a profitable, unmet need that your company can fill.

Reject the request, not the person. Be sure your customers understand that you sympathize with their disappointment and you regret letting them down. A sincere apology will go a long way in smoothing ruffled feathers. Ask if you can do anything else for them so they feel you still want to help them with other situations and are not rejecting them completely.

Give an explanation. Do not just refuse a request and then use the insulting, blanket explanation that it is "company policy." Your customers do not care about company policy; they want to understand why they cannot get what they want. Make your explanation about why what they are seeking will not or cannot work. Telling a customer, "I'm sorry, but I can't promise delivery by tomorrow this late in the day. I would hate to do that and have you end up on the spot with your client when the documents don't arrive," puts your answer in a positive light: You are protecting your customer's reputation as well as your own.

Refer when you can. If you have to say, "No," because you do not have the authority to give the customer what is wanted, do not be afraid to refer her or him to someone who does have the authority. This is one case where transferring the call is a good customer service move.

Softening the blow when you say no to customers will make it easier to help them find an alternative and preserves the customer relationship. With practice, you will soon have even the customers who do not get what they originally asked for eating out of your hand.

Some Thoughts on Telephone Etiquette for Quality Customer Service

There are tips and tricks that you should keep in mind with every call you take or make that will round out your skills and make every customer happy.

Set Yourself Apart from the Crowd

Being a good customer service representative does not mean merely settling for satisfactory job performance. You should strive to be the best customer service representative you can be. That means going above and beyond to impress customers so that they feel you are truly "their" customer service representative, not just an anonymous voice at the end of the line. There are many ways to do this; here are a few to get you started:

Get to know your customers. After some time working in customer service, you will start to recognize the names of regular customers. Take the time to really get to know them. It takes only one question each call to learn more about the individual. Start a file you keep near the phone that includes client information such as birthdays, the names of spouses and children, and hobbies or interests that repeat customers have. When they call you, ask about their children, their vacation, or some other personal (but appropriate) question that tells them you remember and care about them. Send a birthday or anniversary card with a brief note each year to keep your company in their minds in a positive way. They will enjoy the personal touch.

Make connections for your customers. Put your customers in touch with other companies that offer services you know they need. They will appreciate the referral and keep you in mind the next time they need one of your products. If you know they use one of your company's products or services regularly and there is a special sale price, be sure to call customers who may be interested to alert them to the savings.

Treat everyone the same: with exceptional service. Think about the last time someone called to complain about a $4,000 purchase. Did you fall all over yourself trying to make them happy and find an acceptable solution? Now think about the customer who called upset about a faulty $4 product. Did you write this off with minimal effort, figuring $4 was not going to make or break the company? Now what if we told you that the same person who had the $4,000 order had placed the $4 order? If you are not treating every customer as though he or she is your No. 1, highest volume client, then you are not providing exceptional service. Put as much effort into finding a solution for a $4 customer as you would for a $4,000 customer. The little guy may be a power buyer next month or next year!

Be proactive. Do not wait for your customer to ask you to explain something after they have said, "This manual is just too confusing." When you hear a complaint like that, volunteer to help them understand it. Offer help in any way you can without being asked. Show enthusiasm. Your mood and attitude can be heard. Be sure you are speaking in an upbeat, optimistic voice whenever you are talking to a customer. Remember, customers can hear you smile! Customers can tell if you truly enjoy helping them or are just going through the motions. Be enthusiastic about your product and services and learn as much as you can about them so that you can share your knowledge.

Be accessible. When you have completed a call, give the customer your name and direct line number. Tell customers they should feel free to call you directly the next time they have a problem or question. Just knowing they have a friend and ally at the company will make the caller feel better. Callers also will be more likely to use your company again if they know you are available to assist them. Being a friendly, accessible individual instead of an anonymous voice on the phone does wonders for your customers' satisfaction.

Do not be afraid to change. If you notice a pattern of complaints about something, bring it to the attention of management or your supervisor. Companies grow by changing and evolving. Do not keep your mouth shut because you think it is not your responsibility. Take the initiative on behalf of your customers.

Ask for feedback. Periodically ask for your customers' input on how they think you are doing. Then take their comments seriously. Honestly examine your methods and determine what needs to be changed. Do the same regarding the company as a whole; ask your customers if they are satisfied with the repairmen you send out or the delivery service your company uses. Customers will appreciate being asked for their opinion, and you can use the feedback to improve overall service.

Promise less and give more. It is tempting to promise everything to customers who are upset, or at the very least to promise as much as you can deliver. This may sound good in the short term, but what if something unexpected comes up that delays resolution? If a caller is happy to hear that a package can be delivered by the end of the week and it arrives by Wednesday, imagine how much more impressed that customer will be! Promising enough to make someone happy but giving value above and beyond what the customer expects will cement your relationship.

Take breaks. Every half hour or so, stand up and stretch. Roll your neck to loosen the muscles. Sip some water and blink your eyes rapidly. All of these exercises will help you relax and get rid of any tension you may have developed while sitting on the phone talking for long stretches. A relaxed, comfortable body translates into a more relaxed, friendly attitude. Being coiled up and tense leads to unpleasant customer service encounters.
Finally, remember that the customer you are talking to is, for those moments on the telephone, the most important person in your world. Make sure the caller knows it, and you will soon be the customer service representative everyone else aspires to become!