How to Say NO to Customers Without Making Them Angry

6 min read
Sep 9, 2014
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When clients need to contact a company’s support, they always want to hear the yes answer to all their requests. But that’s not always possible, is it?

We all take denial very seriously. It can cause an emotional, or even childlike response. We shout, hang up and threaten to leave. We are also quick to talk about it on social media – bad experiences are three times more likely to be shared than the positive ones.

That’s why you should seek alternatives to flat-out saying no. Understanding the denial mechanism is key to approaching these difficult situations. It also helps you to deal with all types of difficult customers. To get the hang of it, we need to look to our childhood. After all, it started the first time our parents denied us a candy.

The child within you

In the book "The Effortless Experience", Matthew Dixon, Nick Toman, and Rick DeLisi noted that when we were toddlers and one of our parents said NO, we had three options:

  1. Ask the other parent (we still had another chance of getting a yes).
  2. Accept no as the answer and forget about the case (but who wants to do that?).
  3. Cry, scream and kick so that everyone would see our displeasure, hoping our outburst will change the decision (yes, we’ve all been there).

You probably think that you outgrew this, but for most of us, these reactions are still evident. We might not kick and bite as much, but we still scream and pout.

Here are some common refusal reactions adults can have in customer service situations:

Regardless of which reaction you are faced with, they all can be damaging to your company because of the negative social media testimonials you can get after denying a request.

We are not ourselves, when we are angry. Which reminds me of Snickers commercial: you’re not you, when you’re hungry.

How to soothe the tempers of our customers without resorting to handing out Snickers bars? It’s all about attitude, knowledge and the will to help.

Saying no in customer service

Forgoing responses can cause customer frustrations. To avoid that, you need to approach the difficult matter of saying no more carefully. How to do that?

1. Use positive communication

Each time you say no to a client you're sending a message: you don't want to help. Even if something can't be done, there's always a positive way to communicate it.

Let's say a customer of an online service wants to open a second account and you don’t do this unless he is a Premium Member. There are two ways to go about it:

a) No, you have to be a Premium Member to have a second account. Right now you don’t fulfill the requirements.

b) Sure. Once you have a Premium Account you can run two separate accounts. Find out how to become a Premium Member here (link).

By going with the latter option you don’t cut the conversation short and you can show a possible way out to end on a positive note. Remember, positive communication is the only communication you should use.

2. Find the closest solution

When you can't provide what your customers want, find the closest alternative. Even if it won’t work for them they'll still appreciate your effort. This way you can minimize the number of angry customers.

Let's say a customer of an online store asks for a specific brand and you do not sell it. You might say:
a) I'm sorry, we don't sell this brand.
b) We don't sell it yet, but we do have something similar that you might be interested in.

By providing an alternative, you have a chance of earning an otherwise lost sale. Keep in mind that your support team should know the product and its capabilities inside out in order to be able to suggest a substitute.

3. Provide a dedicated explanation

Not all of your customers will be able to understand your product the same way. Some of them will require a more detailed, or simply different explanation to make a purchase.

For example, let’s say you’re a software provider and a client is having a hard time implementing your software on the company website. You can approach this matter in two ways:

a) As long as you follow the tutorial instructions it all should be fine, unless you’re doing something wrong. Or maybe your site is not working properly.

b) Let’s follow the instructions together step by step. If it’s not going to work this time too, I’ll ask my colleagues if there’s another way to do it.

Provide alternative ways of approaching a particular subject. If a customer needs an example, come up with one. If he or she would prefer a step by step explanation, go for it. There are customer service apps that allow you to send knowledge base articles to your customers and save time (you can test one if you like, LiveChat offers a 14-day trial). Remember, it’s important to meet the client in the middle.

4. Don’t let customers push you around

Obviously you can’t always give your clients a green light to their requests, no matter how bad you want it. If you have to refuse, make sure you are polite.

Let’s say a client wants to return an item after a long period of time, way past the normal return date. Since you can’t agree to that due to company policy, you have two options:

a) Due to the company’s policies, you can’t make a return. You exceeded the acceptable date. I’m sorry, there’s nothing I can do.

b) I understand your situation. I also spoke to my supervisor about your issue. But due to our company’s policy, I’m not allowed to accept it. I’m really sorry.

It’s not all about saying no or yes. It’s the impression you make that matters. Show the customer that you’ve put some thought to a situation and you simply cannot fulfill the request. Instead of focusing on a customer’s mistake, try putting the focus on what you have done to help.

Say it right

You can’t always say yes to every customer request. Learning to say no, and being subtle about it, is a very important skill in customer relationships. It also requires great degree of self control.

Keep in mind that customers don’t stay forever just because you helped them out. However, they are quick to leave when they feel that you don't want to help.

Don’t leave your clients with a flat-out “no”. That’s not the message you want to send. Instead, try to ease the pain of denial by suggesting alternative solutions.

I you liked this article, you may also like: Customer Service Quotes and What You Can Learn from Them.

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