It’s one of the most well-worn clichés in the client relations business: “The customer is always right.”
Yet even if you swear by the wisdom of this philosophy, the fact remains that it’s not always possible to give a customer what she wants. Sometimes, whether we like it or not, customers must hear the word “no.” The trick is to do it as artfully as possible, so there are no hard feelings — and the business relationship isn’t adversely affected.
So how does one say “no” most effectively? Let’s review a few creative ways to give clients the red light.
Personalize your approach
Even the gentlest denial is sometimes poorly received — but an impersonal, form letter-style rejection will almost always prompt a negative reaction. Such pro forma communications give customers the sense that a business doesn’t value them at all, and can’t be bothered to deliver anything more than the most superficial level of engagement.
Instead of saying “no” in form letter style, couch the communication in friendly, encouraging language. It’s also critically important to gets biographical data (such as gender, name spelling, etc.) correct. Customers are more likely to accept being told no gracefully if the answer is delivered with a friendly, personal touch.
Offer something else in return
Remember the classic Walt Disney song “A Spoonful of Sugar Helps the Medicine Go Down?” That bit of unimpeachable wisdom from “Mary Poppins” is just as applicable to good customer management. Hearing the word “no” hurts — but hearing the words “no…but how about this?” stings far less.
Offer your customers something else to assuage any hard feelings. It might be a discount, advice or an alternate solution that meets the needs of both parties. It doesn’t have to be a grand gesture — customers just appreciate the feeling that you’re going out of your way to accommodate them, even if the first request is turned down.
Explain precisely why the request can’t be honored
Customers rightly interpret a brusque “no” with little in the way of explanation as a brush off. That kind of response almost guarantees a disgruntled customer and bad word of mouth — which can be devastating in today’s social media-driven environment.
On the other hand, businesses that take the time to patiently explain “here’s why we can’t do this” are far more likely to earn a client’s respect – even if it’s given grudgingly. Make sure the customer has a clear idea why her request is unworkable at the moment. Explain the specific reasons why you can’t say yes — even though you’d love to. Do this, and you’ll be well-positioned for future business.
Ask the customer to view things from your perspective
When we patronize businesses, we understandably focus on our own needs — we want goods and services delivered in a timely manner at a good price. When these things fail to materialize — or aren’t even possible — we have an immediate negative reaction. That’s because we rarely pause to consider things from the vendor’s perspective.
By asking the customer to empathize with your position, you can overcome these initial negative perceptions — and keep your relationship with your customers intact.
Keep in mind
Telling a customer “no” isn’t easy — but it doesn’t have to damage your relationship. By following the advice outlined above, you can artfully negotiate these tricky exchanges, and keep your customers as happy as possible.
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