“And it comes from saying no to 1,000 things to make sure we don’t get on the wrong track or try to do too much. We’re always thinking about new markets we could enter, but it’s only by saying no that you can concentrate on the things that are really important.” – Steve Jobs in 2004
‘Say no to customers’ sounds almost blasphemous. Customers call with the intent of hearing a yes to everything they say and expect a positive response to all their requests. However, companies know (and I dare say so do customers) that saying yes is not always possible and many times companies must say no to customers. Very few customers take this in the right spirit. Most customers would be angry and even threaten to walk out the door. Their ire makes them share these experiences over social media three times more than they would share positive experiences. When you say no to customers be ready to manage the emotional reactions and outbursts. However, to keep these outbursts to the minimum and reduce the risk of customers sharing negative comments, look for alternatives and ways rather than bluntly saying no. Denial and refusal is not taken kindly by anyone and is even lesser in the case of customers who are investing time and money and expect compliance with their every request.
Understanding the possible reactions when your company has no option but to say no to customers will help in managing the reactions better. As children all of us would have outbursts when we were refused something we had our heart set on. A refusal meant denial and resulted in tears, anger, screaming and even refusal to speak with the person who said the dreaded word ‘no’. Adult reactions seem to be quite similar in the customer service realm. Customers also display a range of emotions and reactions when they are met with a refusal.
– They become negatively emotional – angry, argumentative, bitter and even rude
– They would call back to speak with someone else in the hope of hearing a positive response
– There would be the demand to speak with ‘highest level’ who they feel would be able to change the verdict by bending the rules for ‘just this once’.
– Further refusal would lead them to threaten to take their business elsewhere. Some may carry out their threat but most are just using this tactic to bend the decision in their favor
However, whatever happens or whatever the reaction is of the customer, these can all cause serious harm to your company. When you say no to customers and further refuse to accept their reactions, they would post negative comments on social media sites which are very difficult to counter. No one thinks clearly when they are angry and customers are no different. In fact it is tougher for them to accept a refusal since the perception is that they get the right to hear yes as soon as they become customers. It is imperative therefore for companies to have the right skills, knowledge and attitude while managing and especially when they must say no to customers.
Even though there will be occasions when companies have no option by to say no to customers. However, this must really be the very last resort since an upfront no would translate to very poor customer service and will most certainly lead to a very angry and vengeful customer. Use smart techniques to handle these delicate situations and save your company from backlash if you must say no to customers.
– The communication must be open, lucid and positive. Say no to customers without them interpreting this as a refusal to help or give in to their demands. Despite looking at all the possibilities if you are certain that nothing can be done, it would be wise to communicate it in the most positive way possible. For example a customer may hear some news in the market that your company is offering special privileges and the customer may not have received the same. Your company did not send it out because the customer may not be eligible but the customer does not see it that way. Instead of saying ‘you are not eligible’, it would be better to let the customer know how they can also reap the benefits. This is positive communication and one that will have the desired result on the customer.
– If your company is unable to provide to the customer what they want, the next best thing would be to present them with another option. They might accept but even if they don’t at least they know that you tried. If your relationship with your customer is long and your rapport is great, offer a sincere apology and provide more than just a couple of alternatives. Providing alternatives tells the customer that you value the relationship and are keen to serve them despite your limitations. This is way better than to say no to customers bluntly and risk losing them. Your company not only retains the customer but also keeps their reputation intact. As an example, a friend would always buy the same flavor of jam, for her little son, of a particular company and from the same store. It so happened that on one visit to the store this particular jam was unavailable and the little fellow was obviously crestfallen. The store associate instead of saying that the jam was unavailable showed the kid a cartoon character shaped bottle of another company of the same flavor of jam. No prizes for guessing the result: the kid was ecstatic and my friend was relieved. She thanked the store assistant for his quick thinking and even put in a good word to the floor manager about him. Suggesting a substitute and a seemingly more attractive one, kept the customer happy and ensured that she would keep going back to that store for all her purchases. Of course, she told her friends about the experience too and even the little fellow proudly told his friends of the great new product ‘just for him’.
– Rather than say no to customers when they ask for explanations on certain products or product features, provide them with one that is most customized to them. Take them through the instructions step by step till they are content that there is no other way to approach the issue and that when the company said no to one alternative, it was justified. Remain in control and polite at all times. Under no circumstances is rude, brash and curt behavior acceptable especially in the realm of customer service.
– Having said that courteous behavior is a must, companies must also stand their ground and not let customers use the weight of their ‘approach’ or business to push you around. If you must say no to customers, do so courteously so that they are unable to fault you on this measure. Make them feel even then that they are important to your company but the request is beyond the policies or acceptable norms of the company. Even if you are saying no to a request, the customer must know that you have tried your best, given their situation a thought and will continue to serve them well. Veer their attention away from what you cannot comply with and move it towards showing them your efforts and the alternatives you are providing.
“People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” – Theodore Roosevelt
– Every customer service representative must have learnt the key skill of being able to say no to customers with subtlety. Customers never forget – good and bad. They will remember that you tried to help even when the situation was tough and this kind of customer memory is great for business. The main purpose of customer service is to alleviate the problems of customers and elevate their happiness and satisfaction. Don’t do the opposite by being blunt and discourteous especially when you are unable to give them what they want.
To say no to customers should not mean that you must lose them. In fact, handling the precarious situation with finesse and consideration will leave your customers impressed with your company’s ability to handle difficult situations and will improve your relationship with the customer.