When You Need to Say No to a Customer and How to Say It
When You Need to Say No to a Customer and How to Say It

The belief that all you need to do to leave your customer feeling happy is to just say yes does not always do the trick, but that thinking is an easy trap to fall into. Alternatively, saying no to a client need not be the world-ending event you imagine it to be, either. In fact, you might find that it makes your business life a little easier.

If simply giving customers what they want were all it took to make them happy, why is it that many of us do not like going to the post office? We always come out with what we want, whether it is stamps, money orders, or packaging. Maybe the long lines waiting for service or dour staff makes a difference.

Customer service folklore that states that if we give customers all that they ask for they will be happy is false. You need to move beyond this folklore by aiming to fulfill your customers' true needs, which we will cover below. First, however, we will consider a few pointers on how to go about saying no.

Say it gracefully but clearly; e.g., "No, we cannot do that." Be as direct as possible, but not angry.

Shake your head, use eye contact, be firm in order to minimize the chance that the customer believes there's wriggle room.

Do not overly explain or compensate otherwise.

Be sympathetic, show that you understand what a bad situation it is, express your understanding about their frustration.

Offer an alternative solution if possible. Done properly, saying no can have two very powerful effects:
  • You demonstrate your preparedness to stand by something, whether it is a belief, an idea, or a methodology; and most people will respect you for doing so.
  • If you are declining a request to perform services you are not happy with or confident about, you demonstrate integrity and honesty by doing so. Again, people will respect and remember you for doing it, which is a good thing for the future.

Seeing Red and Dealing with It!

Have you ever had to deal with someone who has driven you up the proverbial brick wall?

As anyone whose job has required them to work with customers has discovered, unfortunately there are people out there that seem to make it their task to drive you batty! They may be rude, frustrating, confused, or simply irate.

Interested in learning more? Why not take an online Customer Relationship Management course?

Regardless of what it is about them, it is up to you as a service provider to ensure that any minor clashes do not turn into pitched battles or guerrilla warfare.

Knowing when you are just about to lose control with a customer is not always an easy thing to gauge, but often there are red flags that wave away at you, such as:

Tight neck and shoulders

Dreading that ringing telephone

Cringing at the thought (or sound) of the customer's voice


Being short or curt

Raising your voice

How many of these symptoms have you experienced in the past?

Do not worry about them in the future. Take them for what they are -- a warning -- and take the following steps to alleviate the situation.

1. Allow the customer to vent. Customers are like anyone else in that, when they are upset, they desire two things: to express their feelings, and to have the situation resolved as quickly as possible.

Always allow your customer to vent first before you try to calm them down and resolve the problem. Allowing them to let it all out gives the impression you are listening and, frankly, it is only after they have done so that they will begin to hear what you have to say.

2. Avoid becoming trapped within a negative filter by switching to a service filter. Do not apply negative names like "jerk," "loser," or "Bozo" to customers. When we start using these expressions, even if we do not say them out loud, they filter down into the way we treat the person from then on.

3. Express empathy to the customer. Once the customer has vented, you need to give a brief and genuine expression of empathy; i.e., showing them you understand their frustration, anger, etc. This works wonders.

4. Instigate action to rectify or solve the problem. Ask questions to clarify exactly what the customer's problem is. Be sure to listen carefully, without jumping in with suggestions, until he or she is finished. Gather any information that will help with the situation.

5. Come to a mutual agreement on the solution. After all relevant facts have been gathered, you have to work with the customer to come to a mutually agreeable solution.

6. Follow up. You score points with customers if you follow up with them. It does not matter if this is done by phone, e-mail, or letter; just do it. Check that the solution worked or the problem was rectified in some other way.

Take the Initiative and Bounce Back
Just fixing a customer's problem is often not enough. Why? Because even though a customer will be pleased that a problem has been, or will be, solved, he or she might think twice before dealing with you again, fearing a repeat or similar problem.

So you need to go one or two steps further than just saying the problem will be solved. You need to do the following:

  • Say you are sorry: Apologizing is so simple to do, it is often overlooked. When standing in front of someone who is very upset, saying that you are sorry can either calm the fires or put them out all together. Saying you are sorry is not an admission of guilt.
  • Make sure the problem is fixed properly and expeditiously. Assess the situation in partnership with the customer. Identify the problem and fix it. Sometimes this will be easy, sometimes not. Sometimes compromises will have to be made between the parties.
  • Give the customer a "care token." Do not miss this fabulous opportunity to score points from your customer after the situation has been rectified. The words "care token" here signify a specific action rather than an actual token. It is your way of signifying to customers that you considered the problem unacceptable, and you will do your best to see that it is not repeated. Here are some examples: A restaurant gives you a free bottle of wine because there was something wrong with the meal you were served, or your service garage loans you another car because yours is not ready.Surprisingly few companies take advantage of this technique.