5 Tips for Telling the Customer ‘No’How you handle customer issues says a lot about your business.
Telling the customer “no” is never easy for a small business owner. There may be times when you have to let a customer down gently, and that’s no easy task.
Glenda Penot founded Argenta Financial Search more than 20 years ago. She deals directly with Fortune 500 companies and has 30 years of experience filling high-level finance and accounting positions. Penot shared tips on how she has told clients the one word they never want to hear, while continuing to do business with them moving forward.
Always keep your cool
Imagine a scenario where you just got word that a big purchase order was incorrect and your operation is about to come to a grinding halt. And then you get a call from an employee saying she’s out sick. Sound fun?
Understand that your customer doesn’t know about your other problems, and more important, doesn’t care. Their issue is the most important, and ensuring you stay calm and polite is paramount.
“The customer always thinks their issue matters more than any other,” Penot said. “That can be frustrating, but staying calm and listening to their concerns is a must.”
Engage with empathy
Just because you have to say “no” doesn’t mean you don’t try to understand a customer’s point of view.
That’s where empathy comes in: seeing the issue from the customer’s perspective.
Listening and finding out exactly what the customer is asking may also help you suggest solutions you are able to do, rather than the ones you can’t.
“In many instances the customer doesn’t know what they do not know,” Penot said. “They may not fully understand the problem, leading them to believe they are right when in fact they’re simply uninformed.”
Build a coalition
It would be natural to feel adversarial when faced with telling a customer “no,” but you must fight that urge and remember a business relationship works best when it’s more of a team sport than an individual one.
“Another element to successfully dealing with customers is to make sure they understand you are partnering,” Penot said. “Your success if predicated by their experience with you – it is how you measure your productivity and provide exceptional service.”
You cannot be all things to all people, but handling tense situations smoothly will go a long way to continuing a business relationship.
“There has to be mutual respect; however, never confuse diplomacy with telling the customer what they want to hear,” Penot said. “Even the most diplomatic conversation is going to end with you having to tell the customer they won’t get exactly what they want, and there is always some natural friction there.”
Learn from the experience
Don’t leave the interaction without gaining something in return. This won’t be the last time you have to say “no.” Reflect on what could have been done differently. You’ll need that knowledge in the future.
“Take the information and knowledge you amassed in the process and help grow your business, and consider it adding tools to your toolbox for down the road,” Penot said.