How to say NO and keep the customer.

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Unfortunately it's true; it’s not possible to please every customer all the time. For staff to deliver products and services correctly, safely and professionally, sometimes we have to advise a customer that what they want, is not what we can do.

Every employee in every business needs the soft skills (people skills) and the confidence to deliver "no" or bad news in a way that leaves them feeling as valued and respected as their customers.

Here is my 4-step process that will make "no" a trust building customer conversation. 

1. Turn on your empathy. Not all customers will have the same behavioural response. Some customers may respond with anger, others may need time to absorb the information, others will ask lots of questions and some will sense your unease and listen calmly. To minimise staff anxiety and to avoid upsetting customers further, don’t assume to know how a customer will react to 'no'.

Instead of spending time worrying about how the customer will respond, start the conversation and move on to Step 2….

2.  Listen without interrupting. Whatever the response, let the customer express their feelings and concerns and listen with the intent to understand - not to judge. Avoid interrupting as this can upset the customer further.

Let the customer vent and although it may feel uncomfortable to listen to an unhappy customer, maintain respectful eye contact and take mental notes of their concerns and feelings as you are going to need them for Step 3

3. Acknowledge what you heard. The key to success in this Step is to speak calmly and respectfully; speak how you would like the customer to speak to you. Include your understanding of how the information has made the customer feel as well as how it impacts their 'world'. If you simply repeat word for word what the customer said, you risk sounding condescending and inflaming the situation further.

Don't rush the customer but gently move them away from negative thoughts and feelings and into a positive mindset, with Step 4

4. Offer support/solutions. Offer alternatives or solutions but make sure they are matched to the specific needs of your customer. It may still be less than what the customer wants but it confirms that you have considered their individual needs and you are there to help.

'No' should never be the only word a customer hears. It should always be followed with alternatives - even if the alternative is visiting a competitor. What?! Yes! No matter how you help, help is the key to keeping customers feeling positive about the business. 

For more help with delivering bad news to customers, Chapter H in my Book “The A - Z of Service Excellence” is about Handling Complaints and Chapter V is for Venting. Both Chapters are packed with practical tips to help improve the 'people skills' and confidence of staff whilst at the same time maintaining customer confidence in the business.

Download the first Chapter for free HERE

Cate Schreck - Author and Managing Director of Lightbulb Training Solutions