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Saying no to customers

Steps for Saying ‘No’ to Customers While Maintaining a Good CX

Offering Alternative Options and Explaining Reasoning and Rationale Go a Long Way

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The customer may always be right, but that does not mean it is always possible to say yes to every request or demand. And while most customers understand that there may be scenarios in which the organization or company cannot comply with their request, the way a “no” is delivered can have a massive impact on the customer’s overall experience and opinion about the company.

That is why it is important to consider strategies for saying “no” without appearing obstinate or inflexible, while also being empathetic with the customer’s situation. Consider the following alternate approaches to simply offering a hard “no” to a customer’s request.

Request clarification about their issue

Customers requesting a specific resolution to a problem, e.g., “Why can’t I get this feature?” may be trying to address a deeper issue, or may not realize the solution they are seeking can be accomplished another way. Asking customers to describe their root issue accomplishes two things: it demonstrates that the company is truly interested/invested in the customer’s success with the product or service, and it may lead to the discovery of an alternative or workaround to their issue that may not be apparent, simply by saying no.

Say “no” without saying the word

The use of the word “no” automatically invites an adversarial situation. In many cases, it is useful to incorporate alternate phrases or words that keep the door open for deeper communication and understanding. For example, instead of simply telling a customer that “No, we don’t offer a refund,” it may make sense to say something like “We’re happy to offer you the opportunity to exchange the product, or offer you a credit for future use.” This approach puts a positive spin on the interaction, and provides a resolution or solution as the first step.

Explain the reasoning behind a decision

In many cases, a rejection of a request or suggestion should be accompanied by a rationale or policy for that decision. For example, a customer asking why a certain feature is not available should be provided with a clear explanation, such as “We’re planning on incorporating that feature into the next version of the product,” or “We reserve that for the next offering tier, so there’s additional value at that level.” While customers may not be happy with the rationale, it demonstrates that decisions are not being made arbitrarily, and that they are not being singled out.

Offer alternative solutions

If the solution you are offering does not meet a customer’s needs, it makes sense to offer alternatives. This can include steps to accomplish a task using an alternative method (such as providing a manual process that would achieve the same result as one offered by the product), or by suggesting other products, even competitors. This will generate goodwill, as well as long-term loyalty and word-of-mouth advertising that will overcome any short-term revenue loss.

Explain any next steps

Even if a customer’s request is denied, they want to feel like their concerns have been heard. It is important to provide next steps, which can include letting them know that their feedback will be shared with the appropriate teams, as well as offering any additional steps that can be taken by the customer, such as providing feedback via a survey.

Ensure that the customer feels heard

When customers offer complaints, they may not really be expecting a resolution in their favor. Rather, they may simply be seeking an acknowledgement that the company is willing to listen to their issues, and empathizes with them or their situations. Little touches, such as using the customer’s name, or using phrases such as “I understand” or “I can see why you’d feel that way” can help to demonstrate that the company values that customer. Further, it is important to thank customers for sharing their feedback, good or bad, as there are often significant insights that can be used to improve the product or service being offered.


Today’s customers are savvy, and can spot insincerity or lies a mile away, which can negatively impact the perception of the company or brand. If a representative says that they are going to take a specific action (such as provide a suggestion to the product team), they should actually do it, and then provide some follow-up to demonstrate it has actually occurred. If it is not possible to do so, they need to be upfront, and indicate an alternative way for the customer to provide feedback (such as through a feedback link or email).

Ultimately, most customers will understand that companies cannot acquiesce to every demand. The key to maintaining trust and loyalty is to be clear and honest, and provide reasonable explanations on why decisions are made, so customers realize that there is a rationale for the company’s actions, and, in many cases, available workarounds that may help the customer achieve similar results.

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