Customer Experience News & Trends

What to do when the answer to a customer request should be ‘no’

Customers’ perceptions of what should happen can’t always be reality. Here’s how to handle five sticky situations when you can’t do what they want. 

Sometimes, the answer to customers’ requests should be “no.” But most customer service professionals don’t want to say it.

Why? Because customers don’t want to hear it.

Those two letters can eat away at the customer relationship — and quickly push customers to social media where they vent.

Fortunately, there are workarounds in less-than-ideal situations.

Here are five of them, and how front-line service pros can handle each:

1. ‘Bend the rule, just this once, please!’

All companies have some rules and policies that can’t be bent or broken for business reasons — i.e., they keep customers and employees safe; maintain fairness to all customers; or abide by government or industry regulations.

There is no way around them. But there are ways to handle those rules when customers want to get around them.

The key is to show empathy and a willingness to find an alternative for the customer.

Help Scout’s Gregory Ciotti offers this example: He and his friend with a cat allergy watched a man checking into their hotel, which had a no-pet policy. The guest begged a hotel employee to allow his cat to stay.

The employee said something like this: “As much as I like fulfilling our guests’ requests, the ‘no pets policy’ we have in place is too important. It deals with the safety and comfort of all of our customers. Can I call around for locations and availability where your cat might be able to stay?”

The employee managed to diplomatically help the customer, avoid upsetting another (allergic) customer, stay true to the policy and deny the request … without saying, “no.”

2. ‘You know, you should …’

Customers have lots of ideas on what will make your products, services and their experiences better. And they often share those ideas in a demanding way.

  • “It’d be better if you … “
  • “I’d be more loyal if you … “
  • “Why don’t you give me that so … “

While it’s important to hear feedback — after all, customers have some great ideas — front-line professionals also have to turn down some ideas because they know those ideas won’t work.

Avoid saying, “We’ll look into it” because it’ll either sound like a shallow promise or set up a false hope that something will change.

Instead, here’s a response that can work: “I really appreciate you taking the time to share your thoughts. At this time (or in these circumstances), that isn’t a perfect fit. I know of some other exciting features (fits, services, etc.) that you might be interested in trying.”

It’s important to track these kinds of requests, too, because enough of them can help you identify a need you aren’t — but should be — meeting.

3. ‘I need more help’

Some customer requests need more attention than what the front-line employee who originally gets it can give. It might be too complicated, confidential or delicate for that initial level of care.

While that’s not a problem, the transfer to another person can turn into the difficult situation.

Here’s how to handle any transfer smoothly. “Mrs. Customer, let’s get this resolved for you right away. I’m not the best person to handle it, but I know who is. I’d like to have you work with Sandy, who is an expert in this area. Let me get her for you.”

Then make a soft transfer: Stay on the line and introduce the customer and the other employee, briefly explain the issue and ask both for permission to leave the call and let them work it out.

4. ‘I want the same one I’ve always had’

Customers buy the same thing over and over because it works well for them. So you can imagine their disappointment and frustration when a company stops selling their favorite product.

You can make the awkward situation of having to tell them their beloved product is gone a little more bearable by using positive language.

Try handling it this way:

“Mr. Customer, that product has actually been discontinued. I’d be happy let you try the newer version, which our experts created to work better — and from what I’ve heard from customers so far, it really does. I can get an order in for you right now and make sure you have it within two days.”

Avoiding negative words — such as can’t, don’t and won’t — puts the focus on the solution.

5. ‘This doesn’t work!’

Customers usually aren’t happy when their experiences with products, services or people come up short. They want to vent, maybe even demand retribution, which won’t make for an easy conversation.

Front-line professionals won’t want to say “no” when customers are in that state of mind. So the key when a product or experience is broken, defective or under-performing is to show empathy and immediately explain how it will be fixed.

For instance, “I’m sorry that this has happened. You have a right to be disappointed. There might have been a slight mistake in (manufacturing, delivery, assembly, etc.). Can I send you a new one right away?” Or “That is frustrating! I’m afraid we’ve come up short, and I want to get this fixed right now. Can I … (refund you, get a technician out to fix it, arrange for a different item, etc.)?”

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