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How to say "No" to a customer

by Max Al Farakh · Dec 11 2015

It's safe to say that when a customer contacts support, all they want to hear is a "yes" to all their questions and requests. But that's not always possible. This is one of the most complicated situations in customer support because people, in general, take rejection seriously.

A couple of years ago at the Business of Software conference in Boston, Sarah Hatter said something that was a revelation to me:

There are so many ways to say "no" without saying actually saying "no".

Most of the times you can say it differently. You can watch the rest of the Sarah's talk at the bottom of this post. It's well worth your time.

Let's discuss how you can reject a customer without ruining your relationship.

Make it sound like a "yes"

Let's say you have a feature that is only available with an “Enterprise” plan and your customer asks you something like "Can I use this feature?". Compare the two answers below:

No. You have to be on the Enterprise plan to use that.

Sure. Once you upgrade to the Enterprise plan this feature will be available to you. Here is a link you can use to upgrade.

The first answer cuts the conversation short and makes the customer feel bad. By going with the second one, you have a chance of getting a sale. At the very least you end the conversation on a positive note.

Provide an alternative

By providing an alternative, you show that even though you can’t provide what customers want, but you are willing to make some effort to not let them down. They will appreciate it.

For example, if a customer asks us "Do you have Google Drive integration?", I would answer:

We do not have it yet, sorry. But we do have Dropbox integration. Let me know, if that works for you.

Give them a detailed explanation

Let's say you get a feature request and you know for sure that you're not going to implement it. In this case, as I wrote in our "dealing with feature requests" guide, saying "no" is okay.

But if you're going to reject a customer's request, you need to explain why are you rejecting it. The customer will appreciate your explanation and they will feel grateful that you cared enough to take your time to write it.

You can't always say "yes". Learning to say "no" is essential. Just like an apology, rejection is a chance to gain trust from customers and make them more loyal to your company. You just need to handle it right.