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Imagine you’re running an Italian restaurant. You’re serving only a few refined dishes based on recipes that were in your family for ages. People are frequently coming to your place and are enjoying the food from your limited menu. However, there’s a group of customers who often ask you to change or add something. They’re saying things like it’s too fancy, it doesn’t have dishes that many people like, or this one dish would be better with tomatoes instead of mushrooms. How do you react?
If you follow their suggestions and change your menu to make everyone happy, your restaurant will soon become just another generic place. Sure, more people might come and stay for a meal, but there’s no guarantee they’ll come back either. Your place will no longer have the uniqueness that was part of your vision.
The example above also applies to SaaS. If you don’t want that to happen with the product you’re building, you need to learn how to say no to feature requests from customers.
Incoming feature requests
As your product grows in popularity, you’ll notice more feature requests coming in through different channels. These requests are, most often, received by customer service, sales, and social media teams.
They need to decide if the feature that a customer is asking for is already on the list of features to be added. Usually, companies have one dedicated place for these types of requests. This place could be a manually updated spreadsheet, Trello board, an issue tracking system like Jira, or advanced feature request management software for SaaS businesses like Pendo.
If a feature has the potential to be built, it lands on the list and the customer gets feedback on it. Unfortunately, because companies don’t want to say no to customers, these situations happen too often. You fall into the trap of promising features that will never be delivered.
There are many reasons for not wanting to build what customers ask for. You might have different priorities, the feature is not aligned with the company’s visions, or it doesn’t support the way you want your product to be used in the first place. In these situations, it’s perfectly fine to say no. It's best is you do it in a positive way.
Stating things clearly is much better than using a generic message like, “We’ll pass your feedback on to our development team.” Then, nothing happens for years, and the customer keeps asking about it and gets more frustrated every time.
However, to be able to say no, all employees need to be aware of the company’s goals and vision. They also need to have the ability to be honest with customers. Once they have the freedom and power to do so, the key is to say no the right way.
Explaining why you’re saying no to a product feature request
- Make sure you’re on the same page with a customer
Sometimes what customers communicate is not what they mean. It’s your job to understand the motives behind their requests. What do they want to achieve? Do they really need a new feature for that? It’s important to ask them questions that will help you understand why a particular feature is so crucial for them.
You may realize that they don’t use the product the right way, or they’re not aware of a feature that does something similar. So, make sure you’ve deeply analyzed their request and that you understand it. Then, if you still have to say no, get ready to explain.
- Explain your goals and priorities
What is the reason for saying no? Explain the reasoning behind your denial. You can say that you appreciate a customer’s engagement, but this is not where you want to go with your product. You can also say you have a different vision for the next year or two, and maybe you’ll revisit it once you’ve fully developed the product.
After saying no, some customers may be angry, but the more you explain what you want to achieve and what your vision is, the more they’ll understand what other things need to be done first. Explain to them how the features you’re working on provide value or how customers can get something similar to what they want by doing something themselves. For instance, customizing the product.
Here’s a use case from our own product. LiveChat greetings are premade messages that are automatically displayed to visitors inviting them to chat. Sometimes a customer comes to us saying that they want to set up a greeting on their main page and don’t want to display it on any other pages.
That’s not possible because the greeting a visitor sees accompanies them during their journey on the website. What customers can do though, is to set up different, customized greetings for different pages. Although they don’t know it, this is the solution they want because it will bring them even more chats.
That’s a classic example of a customer accepting the way our software works and using the advantages of the features we offer. However, if they decide it’s not what they’re looking for, there’s nothing we can do about it. Transparency and engagement might actually convince a customer to stay and take advantage of the product you’re working on.
- Explain why it’s not the direction you want to go
Freelancers often face the challenge of saying no to customers. They’re trying to make a name for themselves in the industry and want to be known for their particular style. They get questions about custom designs or projects with a customer’s detailed vision that doesn’t reflect the direction they want to go. Their name is on everything they do, so choosing the right projects is crucial for developing their brand.
These are tough situations to handle, but those who have worked hard to establish the direction for their business, need to stick to it. The key here is to also explain the reasoning behind that decision and the direction you want to go. You can also explain how taking on a project influences the future projects you will get. At the same time, you can’t make a customer understand your decision. With creative work, everyone has their own opinion, and sometimes your business is just not for them.
This brings me to the reasons for saying no in bigger companies.
- Explain why it’s not the solution for them
Sometimes what your customers want to achieve won’t be possible with your product. When none of the solutions you offer satisfy them, but they still want their ideas implemented, it’s best to let them go. You might think that it’s easy for big organizations to say that because they have cash flow and a big user base. However, that’s often not the case.
The most important factor for explaining this is the team’s alignment inside a company. To be able to say no and make things clear for customers, all employees need to know their company’s vision and the direction it’s heading in. How can you achieve that? What helps Customer Heroes at LiveChat is the Living LiveChat Software Constitution, which clearly explains our goals and vision. While we care for each and every customer, we’re aware that our solution is not for everyone, and it’s best to communicate that.
Examples of how to say no to feature requests
Here are a couple of examples of how you can react to customers’ feature requests in a positive way.
Instead of saying: Thank you for the suggestions, but we don’t plan to build this feature.
Say: Thank you for your message. Could you tell me more about what you want to achieve with this feature? Why is this important to you, and what benefits are you expecting from having this built?
Instead of saying: I’m not sure if it’s the best idea for us. I’ll check with the team.
Say: We're not supporting this exact feature, but let me look for a workaround for you. You’ll be able to use X, add Y to it, and then you’ll get the results you’re looking for.
Instead of saying: Thank you for the suggestions, but it’s not a priority for us to build new features now. We hope you understand.
Say: I understand why this is important for you. You’re not the only one giving us these requests. However, we’ve been facing some other priorities recently that don’t allow us to build more features right now. We’re focusing on completing our team and keeping everything working. Please let us know if you need anything else.
Saying no is never easy, but sometimes it’s worth it
Not following through with what they’re asking seems like the opposite of what you should be doing. But, you need to trust yourself and focus on implementing core features that will make the product what you envisioned it to be. Equip employees with the resources they’ll need when communicating with customers. Make it possible to say no when they’re absolutely sure your product won’t meet customers’ needs.
Saying no is never easy, but sometimes it’s worth it. Besides smooth service, there’s something else that customers value a great deal. That’s their time, and your honesty will save tons of that.