This post was originally published on Oct. 23, 2015. We have updated it to make it more in-depth and provide greater value to you.
We’ve all been there: a customer wants you to ship a product in a color that you’ve never even heard of before, or demands a refund for a subscription they’ve been enjoying for seven months already. While you want to help them to the best of your ability, you have to say no to them because you know that fulfilling their demands could run your business into the ground. It’s a difficult situation, because common wisdom dictates that, “the customer is always right.”
This pervasive idea makes it hard to figure out how to say no to a customer. But sometimes a customer demands things you just can’t provide them. What’s a customer service agent to do? Follow the steps below to navigate the messy dilemma of denying a customer’s request.
Henry Ford famously insisted, “Any customer can have a car painted any color that he wants so long as it is black.” Sometimes the limits you set are actually an asset in simplifying production or perpetuating your brand. It’s okay to say no, as long as it puts your company ahead instead of behind.
Talk to your team about customer service boundaries—clarity goes a long way in keeping support consistent. While it’s not wrong to say no, it is problematic if you don’t know when to say no to a customer.
Tell a customer no when:
It can be tempting to put off saying no in order to see if there’s any possible way you can avoid saying the dreaded word. But it’s imperative to deny a request as quickly as possible: keeping a customer waiting for the eventual “no” will only frustrate them further because their expectations won’t be met.
If you need time to figure out the issue at hand, try to implement a temporary or alternative solution. If that’s not an option, keep customer informed that you are working on their problem and give them periodic updates.
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Saying no can be a difficult thing to do. On one hand, you can’t promise something you can’t deliver, but on the other, the word no can feel harsh. And isn’t it your job to give the customer the best possible experience?
Unfortunately, sometimes you might just have to say no. Not saying it can be misleading, and can give customers a much worse experience than you intended. As Carolyn Kopprasch from Buffer explains in this Support Ops Hangout video: “No is really clear.”
While you can’t always avoid saying no, what you can do is build the best Positive No ever. William Ury, in his book The Power of a Positive No, breaks down the process for us:
For ready-to-use positive customer service phrases which can be used in more scenarios, read our blog post: 40+ Phrases to Create Positive Scripting for Customer Service
Customers may go through a range of emotions when faced with a denied request. Ury points to the psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s stages of acceptance chart to explain what people may go through when you deny their request. While this chart is used to explain the stages of acceptance for catastrophic life events, a no can lead to a loss in the receiver’s mind, and as a result may cause a similar range of emotions.
By studying the chart you can prepare yourself for an onslaught of distraught messages from your customer, like:
Cultivate a sense of empathy, and understand that these phrases are expressing a number of feelings that need to be expressed before they can find acceptance. Stay calm, and allow them to pass through each phase.
Recommended for you: 30 Empathy Statements and Phrases That Show Customers You Care
Everyone wants her piece of the metaphorical pie. When your customer reacts negatively to a denied request, it’s because she’s feeling cheated out of her share. But according to Herb Cohen, the author of the best-selling classic, You Can Negotiate Anything, this kind of thinking misses the greater point. Instead of convincing your customer her slice is large enough, why not focus on making the pie bigger? With this kind of thinking, everyone gets a bigger slice.
Imagine that your customer is still upset she doesn’t get to have her SEO widget. While you had no choice but to say no, you do have a choice to make a win-win out of the situation. If you identify her true need is to increase her marketing presence, you could show her how to maximize her use of existing features to drive more traffic to her website. Or if that’s not an option, you could refer her to a popular SEO newsletter or industry expert. It will only take a small effort on your part, and you stand to gain the promise of a win-win situation.
Customer win– Increased awareness of marketing tools and current product.
Company win– Retain customer, boosts satisfaction rates.
Recommended for you: 9 Right Things to Do When Dealing with Angry Customers
Saying no to a customer has the potential to do long-term damage, and as a result you must do extra work to make sure that you can retain her. In order to build a meaningful relationship, focus on providing continued support.
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