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Saying NO To Your Customers

Occasionally there comes a time, and more importantly a situation, where you have to say “No!” to a customer. The old expression, ‘the customer is always right!’ is BS and if you truly believe in your offering, then you have to make a simple decision – stand strong in certain situations and turn that individual away, or perhaps make too many ‘exceptions’ and sacrifice what you and the company stands for.

Many companies, particularly SMEs, haemorrhage capital because they pay blood money to unfair customers. This of course is highly subjective in terms of your company and its offering.  No matter how all-encompassing your terms and conditions are or how nicely you explain the situation, some people are just out to get more for less at your expense.

The Dilemma

Let’s be honest though, it’s always a dilemma – some factors make you think “Screw it, I’ll take the hit this once”:

  • I need the money
  • Perhaps if I bend on this occasion it will be a once-off
  • If I’m nice they’ll come back again
  • I should take the hit because they will bad mouth me if not
  • If they bad mouth me on a website or using their social network it could be very damaging to me and my business

Then again, you also take into consideration that perhaps you were in the right:

  • It was in the terms and conditions
  • They are rude and aggressive – do I really want them back?
  • Their claims are unfair and unjust
  • They’ve done this before

The Decision

So how do you decide?  There is no hard and fast rule for dealing with customer complaints, but here is a few pointers for dealing with the situation that may help you decide:

  • Is their argument valid and within the lines of consumer rights for your area?
  • Do the terms and conditions back them up? Or are you covered in them?
  • Does it apply to an individual or product/service?   If an individual, contact that person and get the ‘other side’ of the story if possible – do the stories match up?
  • Have you received any other complaints from other people on this matter?
  • Have you received any other complaints from this particular individual?
  • How big is the problem financially e.g. can you afford to take the hit?
  • Have you Googled them?  Have they a big social and online presence? (don’t underestimate the power of the old school word-of-mouth either)
  • Is your business high-end niche that prides itself and going above and beyond for one and all customers?
  • Is your business a low volume, high margin model that relies heavily on repeat business?
  • Were they nice or at least logical in their method of complaining?
  • Gut instinct – in an ideal world do you really think they should be getting compensation for their complaint?

If the answer is ‘no’ to the majority of the answers above, say ‘no’. As a profit-making business, it’s your duty to provide customers with the service and/or products you’ve outlined and to create an understanding of what they are getting for their money.  Not to just bow to every irate individual who picks up the phone and wants an unjust pound of flesh.

Conclusion – the ‘how’

There are ways to minimise the above (not avoid) by making sure you communicate clearly what your offering is and the price as well as terms and conditions.  However, I would stress: a) treat each argument as objectively as possible b) ensure that you have an understanding of consumer rights and c) even if you’re dealing with an aggressive loony, be nice – ignorance is not the way to say ‘no’!

What’s your view on answering complaints?  When have you said no?  What was the complaint and how did you deal with it?

Image: “Extreme angry man shouting at the phone/Shutterstock

ME: Marketing Manager, SaaS; co-founder of; Social Media Junkie; MSc in Strategic Management; Opinions my own and they may offend (not intentionally of course).

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  • Hi Connor, Not all customers are equal and for sure, the customer is not always right. That said, I had a recent example with a telco who consistently refused to deal with an issue I had with them over the phone, but as soon as I mentioned it on Facebook, my problem was resolved in 48 hrs.   

  • Elishbul

    At last – glad to see this in print as someone who was in retail. Its fine to say No especially if it protects a fair and equal treatment of your other customers and the integrity of your brand. Ethics works both ways in business.

  • Connor Keppel

    Power of FB for ya! You were probably in the right though all along which means you should have been dealt with in the first place

  • Connor Keppel

    Thanks Elish

  • Be_nice

    Recently in Knoxville TN a customer had been asked to leave from a restaurant because the views he expressed on a radio show.  Most people agreed that his comments on gay men were not well thought out.  While many cheered on the owner for kicking him out, I wonder what would have happened if someone kicked out a gay person for their views or a raciest ups the price of a condo to keep a black family out of his building.  Just thinking out loud.. 

  • Must admit, I quite often bypass call centres now and air my problem on twitter – always gets a response and I’m sure it’s far quicker than it would have been using the old-fashioned approach!

  • Anonymous

    Connor – great approach. Really like the objective approach – thinking the situation through. Good advice. Thanks for the tips. Objectivity keeps the relationship balanced. Understanding your own behavioral response and reading the customer’s behavior helps that balance as well.

  • Definitely can be a fine line to walk between doing what is right for your business and not alienating customers. However, the longer one is in business, the easier it is to listen to your gut instinct. There will always be customers who will never be pleased, so you have to choose your battles wisely and understand that not every situation is going to turn out the way you want.

  • Thanks for reading Warren

  • Good advice Bridie – plus it’s cheaper most likely!

  • Great advice Marshall – perhaps a post in that one for you!

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