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Not Saying “No” to a Customer

It is not so much the content of what one says as the way in which one says it. However important the thing you say, what’s the good of it if not heard or, being heard, not felt.

~Sylvia Aston-Warner
One of the hardest things to do is tell a customer they cannot have what they are requesting. Simply saying “no” sends the message that you are unwilling to listen or help. It ends the conversation and leaves the customer feeling angry that their concerns are not being heard and their desires will not be met.
All of this being said, we cannot always say “yes” to every customer or employee. Sometimes we just cannot give them what they are asking for, but we must handle these situations without frustrating them by simply saying “no.” 
Firstly, you must show empathy. For example, if a customer wants a replacement TV, but the warranty period has been expired for six months, you can say, “I understand why you are upset. You expected your TV to last much longer.” A little bit of empathy typically goes a long way to ease frustration and help the customer understand that what they want is just not possible.
When you must tell your customer they cannot have what they are asking for, it is also critical you explain the options in a positive way. Rather than saying, “No, you cannot get a replacement TV,” you can say, “If you send in your TV, we will repair it, and the bill will not be more than $200.” 
Notice how this approach shifts the focus away from “no” by presenting a feasible alternative instead. The customer may not be 100% happy with this alternative, but they will feel a whole lot better than if you said, “No. I cannot help you. Sorry.”
Similarly, you could say, “I am so sorry you are having trouble with your TV. I know how frustrating this is for you. However, if you would like to order a new TV, I am more than happy to give you 20% off your purchase.”
When handling situations like these, a very useful phrase to remember is the following: “How would it be for you to…?” In our example of the broken TV, the company representative could have said late in the conversation, “How would it be for you to send in the TV? There is a $200 max charge for repair.” Notice that by using this phrase, you can benignly guide the customer to another option, then allow them to make the decision.
It is so important not to fumble for your words or exhibit any lack of confidence. The customer needs to feel that you are in charge. Any lack of confidence will be perceived as a weakness they can jump on.
Finally, talk about things you can do rather than things you cannot do. This is a much more positive approach to use with a customer or employee. Again, you might say, “I am truly sorry about your TV, and I have two ways we can handle this. I can have you send the TV in to be repaired, or I can give you 20% off your purchase of a new TV.”
Learning not to say “no” is so important, and it is critical your staff have training in how to do this. It will really improve your relationships with your customers.
You can do this!
Published: June 22, 2015

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Jerry Osteryoung

Jerry Osteryoung is a consultant to businesses—he has directly assisted over 3,000 firms. He is the Jim Moran Professor of Entrepreneurship (Emeritus) and Professor of Finance (Emeritus) at Florida State University. He was the founding Executive Director of the Jim Moran Institute and served in that position from 1995 through 2008. His latest book, coauthored with Tim O’Brien, “If You Have Employees, You Really Need This Book,” is a bestseller on Amazon. Email Jerry @ jerry.osteryoung@gmail.com

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