Have you ever heard the saying, “The customer is always right”?
It makes sense, doesn’t it. The customer is the person who ultimately pays your bills. Without customers – or clients – any business will grind to a stop.
But clients are not always right
Sometimes they ask for something we cannot or should not deliver, and we need to decline their request in a firm, professional manner that strengthens our relationship.
And that’s where it gets tricky. For many sellers they’re used to talking too much, and trying to “overcome” objections, or push through resistance they get from customers.
When they hear “No” or feel resistance their first reaction is often defensive. To push their reasoning, to sell their benefits, even more.
But when it comes to saying no to a customer there are certain aspects that need to be considered in order to give the seller the confidence they are doing the right thing, and give the customer some reassurance that there is a solid reason behind the ‘no’.
The process for saying No
Follow these steps to handle difficult requests and remain on good terms with your client.
1. Clarify, and be clear on what you are saying No to
The first thing to be done is for the seller to confirm they have the correct understanding of what the customer is asking for. Sellers need to ask themselves, “Do I really know what I am saying No to?”
This isn’t always as clear-cut as it may sound. For example a customer may be asking for a discount, and the seller knows they cannot accommodate that request. So even though the seller may already know their ultimate answer will be ‘no’, they need to understand what the ‘no’ means for the customer.
The customer may:
- Have expense reduction targets to meet, so their performance is on the line
- Feel like they have to ‘win’ by extracting a price concession
- Believe there is a legitimate reason they should get a better price, such as having a competing offer
- Have a limited budget they need to stretch and balance over a number of expense items
Each of these reasons will require a bit of a different communications tactic from the seller to ensure the relationship is maintained with that buyer.
2. Begin with empathy, express regret
It never hurts to show some empathy and be on the same side as the customer. Even when you have to say no. If you have clarified their reason for asking (step 1) it becomes a bit easier to respond appropriately.
Let them know you understand why they are asking, and that you appreciate them explaining their situation. Express regret that you cannot help them: “I’m sorry we can’t do that”, or “I wish I could do more for you on that”.
3. Explain things carefully
Importantly, be clear about why you can’t meet their request. Have a Yes to balance your No.
- “No we can’t drop our price in this situation because the support services we provide as part of the price are essential to a great outcome”.
- “I’m sorry but we can’t provide a delivery at that time because we have optimised the schedule to suit all our customers.”
Be sure to explain your position carefully to ensure the customer understands. Make sure they don’t feel as though you have brushed their request aside.
4. Offer alternatives or positive checks
Think about what you can offer. Rather than just say “No we can’t do that”, try to be helpful and let the customer know what you can do.
- Can you provide a better price for a larger order value?
- Can you arrange a special delivery but at an extra cost?
- Can you offer a supplementary service at no (or little) cost?
5. Listen closely
Throughout the conversation it is critical to listen closely to what the customer is saying, what they are not saying, and how they are saying it.
Read their body language, verbal and non-verbal, to put their request in context and help you guide your response.
Now is not the time to get ‘hot under the collar’ and jump in with a long-winded response to try and shut the customer down.
6. Follow up, get back to them
No isn’t always forever. And you probably want to focus on the longer-term relationship, so be sure to stay in touch and follow up with the customer after you have had to say no.
If the customer didn’t buy from you try following up to see if they bought from somewhere else. How was that experience? Did they get what they needed?
If the customer did buy from you after you said no to their request, be sure to stay in touch with them and show you care about the outcome. Use the information you gain from this to help you judge for yourself (in hindsight) if their request and the way you responded, was appropriate.
7. Do not overcompensate for saying No
Finally, don’t overcompensate for saying no. Don’t be overly apologetic. Don’t try and ‘smooth the water’ too much. Don’t revisit the request and keep saying “sorry we couldn’t do that”.
You should have a good reason for saying no, and you should explain that clearly and with confidence. There is no need to undermine your own position by over compensating or repeatedly discussing it.
Would you like to know more?
If you would like to discuss how to help your team be better at handling difficult conversations with clients why not get in touch to explore your options.