When and How to Say “No” to a Customer

by Emily Retherford

2 min read

The old adage, “The customer is always right,” is good advice 99% of the time. However, there is that 1% of the time when a customer is clearly in the wrong, and you need to say “no” as diplomatically as possible. Some customers are just more trouble than they’re worth, and the wisest course of action is to turn them down, even if it means risking the loss of their business. As a small business owner, it sometimes pays to be a bit selective with your customer list and opt to let your competitors lose their time and money dealing with an excessively difficult customer.

When to Say “No”

Your general policy should be to always strive to build good customer relationships by making every reasonable effort to meet customer requests. Some customers are just totally unreasonable, and it is a waste of your time and customer service resources to try to please them. Such individuals typically exhibit a habit of making unreasonable or outright impossible requests, often accompanied by an expectation of getting extra products and services, or with a threat to badmouth your business publicly.

Consider politely saying “no” to customer requests when the request is obviously unreasonable, such as a customer who demands that you supply them with a replacement product that you don’t have in stock before the end of the day. Another situation when you should consider saying “no” is when a customer becomes verbally abusive, angrily shouting or using vulgar language. Closely related to the verbally abusive customer is the disrespectful customer who uses insults or bullying tactics in an attempt to get their way.

Continuing to deal with such customers can have a significantly negative impact on your customer service personnel and their job performance. If the customer publicly displays bad behavior, this could lead other customers to retreat from your store.

How to Say “No”

Even when you determine that your small business is likely better off without a difficult customer’s patronage, it’s still important to deal with the situation professionally. Doing so may even turn things around, changing the customer’s attitude sufficiently to enable you to successfully retain their business.

Stay calm and avoid getting caught up in the anger exhibited by your difficult customer. Do your best to defuse the situation by responding in a polite tone. Express understanding and empathy with a simple statement that acknowledges the customer’s dissatisfaction. Make an effort to explain your refusal, hopefully in a way that makes a positive statement about your business. For example, if you are met with an unreasonable time request for delivering a service, you might respond, “Because we always want to give you the highest quality service possible, making sure you don’t have to deal with any problems in the future, we must take the time to ensure the work has been properly completed.” Propose an alternate solution, something that you can do that may satisfy them. Apologize, even if you haven’t done anything wrong, expressing your regret that you are unable to meet their request.

References & Resources

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