Saying no to a customer is one of the toughest parts of any sales or support job. Whether you’re telling someone that your product doesn’t have the feature they’re asking for, that their refund period has expired, or that they’re not eligible for a discount, you know you’re letting them down -- which can feel like the opposite of your goal.
But the way you say no can make a huge difference. A direct, empathetic, and constructive “no” often leaves a positive impression, and can go a long way toward earning your customer’s respect and trust.
Here are five quick tips to keep in mind the next time you have to say no:
1. Be clear.
It can be tempting to equivocate when saying no to a customer — to try to ‘soften the blow’. Don’t do it! Using vague language can result in confusion on the customer’s part. If you need to tell a customer no, you want to be as clear as possible so your customer doesn’t have any doubts about your answer.
2. Use the right tone.
Aim for a friendly, empathetic tone, and focus on making sure your customer feels heard. Be polite and professional, but not stiff. Be positive, but not so cheerful as to come off dismissive or insincere. And while it’s natural to want to apologize when saying no, avoid saying “sorry” unless you truly made a mistake.
3. Be transparent.
Take time to explain why you have to say no — doing so will make your customer feel heard, and can soften their response. Offer a workaround if you can - maybe you don’t provide exactly what they’re looking for, but is it possible to accomplish the same goal in another way? Focusing on what can be done instead of what can’t ensures the conversation stays positive and the likelihood of a happy outcome increases. You can also share information about related features that are already on your roadmap, so your customer can refocus on the value you bring to them.
4. Stay positive, be proactive.
Focus on what you can do, instead of what you can’t. Ask questions to understand what your customer needs, and then see if you can offer an alternative or workaround that would help them accomplish their goal. If your team tracks feature requests, offer to add your customer’s name and use case to a feature request list, and let them know that you’ll contact them if the feature they want becomes available in the future.
5. Know when to let go.
Sometimes saying no is going to result in an unhappy customer, no matter how hard you try. It’s perfectly okay for customers to have deal breakers, and if your service isn’t a good fit for a customer, the best thing you can do for them is to be honest about that.
Knowing when to let go also means not accepting abuse — if an unhappy customer escalates into an abusive customer after hearing “no”, end the conversation immediately. Treat all customers fairly and equally. If you wouldn’t do something for a happy customer in the same situation (provide a refund, for example) don’t do it just because a customer is unhappy.
Is there anything we’ve missed? What do you do when you have to say no to a customer? Let us know @Olark on Twitter, and if we like your approach we’ll share it!