It's well known that loyal customers are valuable commodities for your business. So, it's no surprise that we often talk about the importance of generating customer loyalty and doing everything within your power to fulfill your customer's needs. But what happens when fulfilling the needs for one customer comes at the expense of another customer's experience? How do you tell that customer that you can't meet their request?

When you work in a customer-facing role, it's often difficult to say "no” to your customers. You want to do everything you can to improve their experience with your company. But, sometimes customers expect too much from your business and ask for something you simple cannot provide to them.

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In these cases, how do you tell the customer no without jeopardizing the business relationship you have with them? Sometimes there's no easy way of saying it, but you can soften the blow by delivering your response in a constructive way.

In this post, we'll break down why it's so difficult to say no to your customers as well as what you can do to resolve situations where you can't fulfill the customer's request.

3 Reasons You Aren't Saying No to Customers

Many businesses still embrace the idea that "the customer is always right.” However, that ideology is mostly rooted in the fear that your company doesn't know what your customers really want. So, management uses that slogan to mask its true reasoning for being hesitant to reject customer requests. To help you better understand why this is the case, below are the three most common reasons that most business won't say no to their customers.

1. You fear a bad reputation.

It makes sense. You don't want your customers telling their friends, family, and coworkers that your company doesn't value their business. However, that's why thorough explanations are so essential. No customer is going to think badly of you if you explain why you can't fulfill their request and that you're doing so to ensure they get the best value for their money.

2. You don't want to ruin your relationship with a customer.

Perhaps this is a customer who you've worked with in the past or is a regular, loyal customer. While these are usually customers you should prioritize, they may come to expect too much from your products and services. This can happen if your customers become heavily reliant on your company for their success.

This is a good problem to have. It means you're consistently fulfilling their needs and have built up your credibility in the customer's eyes. While your customer may be a bit disappointed in your response, resetting expectations of what your company can and can't do will help salvage the situation. Especially if you can provide written documentation from your knowledge base or FAQ page, loyal customers will be understanding of your company's policies if they're made clear in your explanation.

3. You don't want to lose any business.

Of course, one of the biggest reasons you might fear saying no to a customer is that you'll lose their business. You're worried you'll regret the decision to say no and beat yourself for not working just a little harder to fulfill their request.

However, you can't ignore your company's policies or standards at that moment. Your priority is doing a good job, not doing a lot of jobs, so you should never regret saying no if it's what's best for you, your existing customers, and the customer you're working with.

Now that you understand why it's difficult to say no to customers, here are some tips that will help you do so without losing their business.

7 Ways to Say No to Customers Without Losing Their Business

1. Thank them before responding.

First thing's first: You should always thank customers for wanting to do business with you. It's very kind of them to trust your business over others. Just as you would with any kind of rejection, you should soften the blow with a genuine thank you at the beginning. This will show the customer that you care about them and appreciate them reaching out to your business.

2. Be transparent about why you can't fulfill their request.

Don't sink to lies and false excuses for why you're saying no. Instead, just be honest. Admit that their request can't be fulfilled at this time and explain why that is the case. Additionally it helps to follow up your explanation with some alternative options that may help the customer.

Your customer may take this well, or they may not. However, no matter their response, if you tell the truth you will always be able to explain why you're rejecting their request. If you lie, you can quickly get exposed if the customer decides to investigate the issue further.

3. Provide alternative options.

It's helpful to offer the customer a counteroffer if you can't fulfill their request. Begin with offering other services that your company can provide and see if you can create a workaround to achieve their goals. If not, look externally to see if there is another company out there that can fulfill their need.

Yes, that sounds crazy, but you should try to refer the customer to a competitor that you trust. You don't want to just reject the customer and bid them farewell. If you genuinely care about the customer, you'll want them to find another credible option to get their job completed.

Sending them to a competitor also has multiple benefits for your business. Most importantly, the customer will feel grateful that you cared enough to find them another business to which to turn. Don't feel sorry for losing that customer as you couldn't fulfill their needs in the first place so they were likely to churn eventually. However, while you may have lost that one customer, you ended your relationship on a positive note and avoided a potentially nasty review which could have lost you a lot more.

4. Follow up about the referral.

If you end up passing on the customer to a competitor and the relationship commences, you shouldn't let them go without any further communication. Then, you truly have lost their business. Just because they're working with another company doesn't mean you can't still have a place in their life.

Follow up every once in a while to check in with how they're doing working with the competitor. You can also follow up with the business, itself, to see if the relationship has been working out well. Keeping a foot in the door will show the customer you still care about them and are ready to help if needed.

5. Share helpful content with the customer.

Keep in touch with the customer by sharing content with them that you know is of use. Ask them if they'd like to join your email newsletter. Or, if you don't have a newsletter, you can go the next step by cultivating content specifically for that individual customer.

Put together blog posts, research, news articles, and more sources of information that you believe will actually benefit the customer or are related to the products they use. The customer will recognize that you're willing to go the extra mile for them, maintaining your position on their radar.

6. Stay connected with them.

If your customer feels comfortable with you doing so, follow them on social media — preferably a professional account, if they have one. That way, you can keep up-to-date on the happenings in their life.

Whenever something comes up that's related to your business, you can engage with their posts or tweets by liking, responding, or even sharing. Additionally, mention them on posts, articles, or threads that they may find of interest. Your continued awareness of what the customer likes to read about will further prove your investment in that relationship.

7. Reach out when you can fulfill their request.

You don't want to come on too strong by forcing them to choose between your business and the competitor to which you referred them. However, you can shoot them a friendly email to let them know your company has made some changes and that you'd love to help them in any way you can. Make it clear that if they have any questions, they can send them your way and you would be happy to help. Perhaps, they still need to fulfill their original request and you can discuss options moving forward.

For tips on handling another difficult conversation to have with customers, read about the best way to let your customers know about a price increase.

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Originally published Apr 19, 2019 8:00:00 AM, updated April 19 2019

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Customer Retention