Tip of the week: Use the 3 Rs to identify when and how to say “No” in customer service
Last updated April 5, 2016
As someone in customer service, I want to build relationships, provide solutions, and make people smile. In a perfect world, I’d say “Yes” to every customer every time. Give the people what they want! As someone in customer service though, I also know that there are limits to what a support team can do. Sometimes “Yes” is not the right answer.
In this tip of the week, I’ll cover the times when “No” is the answer the customer needs to hear and how you can deliver a “No” in a way that is helpful and empathetic. It can be scary saying “No”. But getting better at this actually makes you more helpful! After all, one of the worst service experiences is believing something will work and then finding out later that it isn’t possible. Feeling deceived can be very damaging to a relationship.
Now let’s discover when and how to deliver a “No” in a way that treats the customer with respect and keeps them on the path forward to satisfaction. Introducing the 3 R’s: Research, Reason, and Redirect.
Be sure that “No” is the right answer. Just as saying “Yes” when it isn’t true erodes trust, saying “No” when something is possible leaves customers with the impression you don’t want help. Remember, saying “No” isn’t a strategy to get rid of a customer. If there’s a solution for their needs within your service or product, you absolutely want to provide that solution.
The first step is to be clear on what the customer wants or is trying to do. You can’t evaluate whether their request is possible without understanding their need. Ask follow-up questions, get on a call, or describe in your own words what you think the customer is asking. Once you are both on the same page, you can determine whether you can provide what they want.
Try this:“It sounds like you want to…”
Next, determine if what they want is possible. Check with your colleagues, review relevant documentation, search for previous tickets, and post the question in group chats. If you still aren’t sure if something is possible, ask your manager to help you find the right resource in your company. Be thorough in your search. If you do need to tell the customer “No” you’ll be confident that you’re providing the best support.
Try this:“I have discussed this with the team, and it is currently not a feature.”
Note: It is often best to do this over a phone call. That makes it more supportive and personal, and allows you to address the customer’s concerns directly. Before getting on the call, be sure to prepare the next two steps.
After doing the appropriate research, be able to give the reason why you can’t deliver the customer’s requested solution. This demonstrates that you do understand and want to help with their request, but there are considerations or limitations that prevent you from doing so. You are also anticipating a response of “Why not?” by giving a justification from the start.
Try this:“This is because…”
Whatever reason you are giving, be honest but positive. Never degrade another team like your developers or product management when telling a customer “No”.
For example, say something like: “That feature is on our roadmap, but we are focusing on some very important initiatives relating to access and usability—so it may not be ready for a while.”
And not something like:“The developers don’t have time to deal with this now so I can’t say when we might get to it.”
Other than being right in the first place, this is the most important part. Generally, even if the answer is “No”, it’s usually “No, but…”. Meaning, that the answer to the customer’s specific question could be “No”, but, there’s still a way to achieve the goal they are trying to address.
Try this:“That isn’t an option, but I’d like to take a step back and ask what are you trying to achieve with this? I may be able to provide an alternative solution.”
Consider what other options exist. No out-of-the-box solution? What about an integration, a 3rd-party product, or a partner resource? Alternatives to the customer’s specific request will likely come up when you are performing the initial research, or else do a bit more research to find them now.
Try this:“Rather than…”
By providing alternatives, you give the customer a path forward. This is also your opportunity to truly lead the customer – recommending solutions that are in-line with your product or service and will work well over the long haul.
If nothing else, give them the opportunity to submit feedback for future consideration. This lets them know that you do care about their needs and will look into making changes to provide for them. If possible, do both! Give them an opportunity to request a change to your product for the future, and provide alternative solutions for today.
In summary, saying “No” isn’t about denying the customer. It isn’t about lazily admitting defeat and hoping they go away. It isn’t easy!
Saying “No” should be done to establish the boundaries of your product and services. It is important to prevent customers from investing time, energy, and money going down a path that leads nowhere. It is the honest and responsible thing to do when faced with a specific request that is not possible.
And it is only the start of the conversation. When you properly research, give clear reasoning, and provide alternative solutions with a path to success, “No” is an opportunity to build a strong and meaningful relationship with your customers.