When Is It OK to Say No to a Client?

Are you insane? This goes against everything anyone in sales or customer service has ever been taught! The customer is always right, right? No! Is it right to promise what you can’t deliver? Is it right to tell the customer the job will be delivered in a short amount of time when you know it physically can’t be done? Is it right to tell a customer you have the capability to produce what you know your equipment or software isn’t capable of?

We always want to give customers what they want, even though we know we can’t always do that. But sometimes we need to say no if the client demands services that are prohibited, dishonest, or damaging to their brand, or if the client has extreme expectations. Consider this: Is it wise to say yes, work like a fiend, push your equipment beyond its limit, or spend all night writing a new program? No. This almost always results in an exhausted and frustrated employee, broken equipment, and a program that still doesn’t please the client. Disappointment is felt all around. It’s important to note that saying no doesn’t mean that you are ending your company’s relationship with a client. So, how do you say “no” without disappointing your most valued asset? When a client wants something that you can’t achieve, the best answer is to explain the reasoning behind the “no” and offer an alternative solution. People like being treated fairly. All the leading customer service and sales experts tell us to replace the word “no” with the statement, “Here’s what I can do for you.”

If you constantly give excellent customer service and your client is 99% satisfied with all that you do, it is always the better choice to say no when something cannot be done. Promise your absolute best, promise you will do everything “within reason” that you can, but remember that there is no shame in admitting defeat. And the most important lesson here is to admit defeat before you see “the whites of their eyes,” which will actually be the client seeing red if you constantly promise what you cannot deliver.

Bottom line: If you must say no, say it with empathy and clearness. Present an alternative solution so that the client doesn’t feel a loss of power. I personally dislike hearing “I understand how you feel.” Try to avoid that phrase. Everyone and everything has its limitations, which can often be overcome eventually. But for now, say no when you know deep down it’s the right answer.

Have you ever said no to a client? If so, want to share any stories that would help us all learn how to cope best with the situation?

Project manager Rob Mills offers great insight on when to say no to clients in this article.

Author: Doreen Doyle & Marina Kaljaj

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