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What To Do When You Can't Say "Yes"

by Shep Hyken, CSP

As much as you want to please your customers, there will be occasions when it's just not possible or practical to acede to their requests. But just as saying "yes" won't always, of itself, keep your clients happy, a refusal doesn't have to mean that they're lost to your business either. It all depends on your creativity and flexibility.

One of the most negative situations one can create with a customer is to say "no". In general, people hate to be told "no". It starts when we are little kids and our parents constantly scream "NO!" at us.

But sometimes saying "no" is unavoidable. In Karen Leland & Keith Bailey's excellent book, Customer Service for Dummies, they cover a number of reasons you would have to say "no".

Let's cover some major reasons why we would have to say "no", and what we can or cannot do about them.

It Is The Law

Sometimes you are asked to do something and agreeing to do it would break a law. This one is simple. Most customers should be comfortable with the reason.

It Is Company Policy

I hate being told someone can't do something because of "company policy".

One Saturday evening my wife and I ventured to a restaurant known for great food at reasonable prices. I decided to try the pork special, which included potatoes and vegetables. I asked what the vegetables were. The waitress told me string beans and corn. Well, I love corn, but hate string beans, and I asked if I could have extra corn instead of the string beans. The waitress said they do not substitute.

So, I asked her just to leave the string beans off. She told me she couldn't do that either. I asked why. She said it was their policy. I told her that at McDonalds if I don't want a pickle, they leave off the pickle.

She looked at me like I was nuts! The dinner came with the string beans and we never went back.

We're Out Of It!

A company can be out of a part. The book store can be out of a bestselling book. A movie theater can be sold out of seats. It is all the same. You have to tell the customer you don't have any more.

So, what do we do? Let's take a lesson from Nordstrom's.

Legend has it that a customer wanted something that Nordstrom's was out of. The employee asked the customer to come back in 15 minutes. Meanwhile the employee ran to another store in the mall, paid retail for the item and brought it back to Nordstrom's where it was sold to the customer as if Nordstrom's had the item all along.

Great solution when you can do it, but sometimes it is not that easy. One of my retail clients will actually send the customer to the competition, but not before they call the store and have it held in their customer's name.

Most of the time the customers are appreciative, seeing that the store is more interested in taking care of the customer than making sale. In the long term, the store gains the customer's loyalty and trust.

Sometimes you just have to resort to telling the customer when the item will be back in stock. Just make sure you honor your promise. If you say it will be in next Tuesday, it had better be in.

It Just Can't Be Done!

Sometimes a customer wants something that just can't be done or is impossible to get. It is that simple.

Your goal should be to educate the customer why you can't get them what they want. However, if you are really good, you could try to help find it somewhere else, or maybe find a replacement.

Yes Isn't Good Enough...

Sometimes giving the customer what he/she wants doesn't ensure the customer will be happy with you.

I remember pulling into a parking lot which had some open spaces I could see from the street only to be told they were full. I argued that I saw open spots. The attendant argued that there weren't any. He refused to look, even though I told them exactly where they were.

After 5 minutes of arguing, he finally agreed to look. Sure enough he saw the spaces I had seen from the street.

He angrily waved me in. Even though I got my parking space, I was mad. He "gave in", but he did it too late.

Saying "No" Isn't Do Bad...

No, it might not be so bad. One day I went into one of my favorite places, Baskin Robbins, the well known ice cream parlor. I was excited to order my favorite flavor, Quarterback Crunch. To my disappointment, they were out of that flavor.

The girl dishing out the ice cream told me what her favorite flavor was and asked if I wanted to try it. I did and guess what? I now have a new favorite flavor!

Substitution is a viable alternative to many situations. Sometimes it may be obvious, while other times you may have to take a creative approach. With the right attitude, you may find that saying "no" is an opportunity to show how good you are.

So the next time you are forced to say "no" to a customer or client, think of the above. Delivering great service and creating Moments of Magic have always included common sense thinking and flexibility.

Copyright ©2004 by Shep Hyken, CSP and Shepard Presentations, LLC

Shep Hyken, CSP is a professional speaker and author who works with companies who want to develop loyal relationships with their customers and employees. For more information on Shep's speaking programs, books, tapes and learning programs contact Sep at (314)692-2200 or or visit his website.


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