how to say no feature

How to Say "NO" in customer service

Written by on August 13, 2013

When I jumped cities, I had to meet up with a dozen prospective roommates before settling in with one I could stand. Everything was peachy until I told her a pot bellied pet pig was a more pressing necessity than furniture. She said NO, and it stung for weeks.

There are times in life and customer support when you just have to say no. Perhaps it’s a query about a use-case that just doesn’t fit with what your product is meant to do. Or perhaps it’s about a feature that you have no intention of building, resources that you can’t dedicate, or promises that you know you will not keep. But this monosyllabic word is probably the hardest one to utter. It closes all doors and destroys all possibilities. And nobody likes to be the bearer of bad news.

So how do you say no? I’m going to go to the ultimate reference manual of all life lessons; I’m going to the Godfather.

You cannot say ‘no’ to the people you love, not often. That’s the secret. And then when you do, it has to sound like a ‘yes’. Or you have to make them say ‘no.’ You have to take time and trouble.”

Every little sentence, phrase and word in this little quote is so filled with Corleone-awesomeness that you should go ahead, print it out and hang it right on top of your cubicle. You can’t really say NO when the deadliest boss of the cosa nostra thinks it’s personal, not business.

Avoid “No Scenarios” : Make sure you don’t have to say it often

At the root of it, saying no to customers isn’t really a customer service problem at all. Most often, it’s a marketing and positioning problem. Customers tend to believe that you do what they ask of you. Sadly, things don’t work that way all the time. Sometimes you just can’t do all that they want you to.

The best way to resolve a “No Scenario” is by preventing it from occurring in the first place. If you are selling off-the-shelf products and do not provide professional services, make it obvious to your customers. If you just cannot travel a hundred and fifty miles just to change a printer toner, put it down on paper. It’s way better to set your relationship with customers and clients on firm ground from the beginning, than to surprise them with “No Service” when they come in with a problem.

Of course, a hundred page contract stating the things you will not do is a great way to turn off potential customers. But that’s where your community discussions and public forums kick into play. Marking boundaries and stating what you will not do isn’t just a great way to avoid saying no when customers come asking. It’s a powerful way to establish your core competency and sweet spot too.

Make it sound like a “yes” – You aren’t the bad guy, so avoid seeming like one.

Often times when businesses refuse to serve a customer’s request, it’s not about what they actually say that stings, as much as the way they say it. When it comes to saying no, support reps either fall into the cave of shallow apologies, or shoot arrows from the mountain of arrogance.

Every “no” in customer service is an opportunity for you to learn a little bit about your product, customers and their use cases.

More important, just because an issue is off the radar today doesn’t mean it will stay there. It can pop up as a hot topic tomorrow and you need your customers to evolve with your roadmap. What better way to make them stay than showing them you are actually listening?

Solve their problem – Make them an offer they can’t refuse

Which brings us to the most important piece of wisdom from the great Don Corleone – make them an offer they can’t refuse. Bottom line is, no customer wakes up in the morning and wishes for a feature in your product. All they want is a solution to their problem.

Instead of a flat-out “no”, it helps to actually play the game from your customer’s side and identify the problem they are trying to solve. Perhaps you have a better solution or workaround at hand? Plus it also shows your customer that you are doing all that you can for them.

Once you have a brilliant work-around, make sure you share that with the rest of the community. That way, everybody gets to win and you won’t have to wait till customers come running, to repeat your stroke of genius.

Of course, there is another option if you don’t want to say no – give them what they want. If you’re still confused about when you should be stepping on the gas, and when you should just hold back and say no, the Corleone NO Chart can help you make the decision:

The Corleone Chart of Saying No in Customer Service

Things you CAN do + Stuff you SHOULD be doing: Corleone region of dominance
If you CAN do something and that’s the direction your customer base really believes you should be working on it, that’s a good reason to pump the gas on this one. These are under the radar issues that would crop up as you scale. It isn’t a customer problem currently, but it will be eventually.

Things you CAN do + Stuff customers WANT you to do: The Tattaglia Route to Professional Services
These aren’t things in your real roadmap, but could offer as Professional Services. Take this route ONLY if you have the bandwidth and resources. Otherwise be nice, but say No.

Things your customers WANT + Stuff you really SHOULD be doing:  Roadmaps to Nevada
Your current customers want it, and that is what your industry dictates you should be doing. Therefore grow, hire and provide the service or get ready with the best apology speech in the history of mankind.

Things customers WANT + you SHOULD + CAN do : The Commission’s Overlap of Possibility
This is your absolute high priority items. Never ever ever say NO here, even if it means shaving off a few dollars or sending Luca to the opposite camp.

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  • Anand Raj

    Classic explanation with classic example 🙂