We all know that emotionally, people don’t respond well to “no.” As customers we hate it, so why would you straight up say “no” to a customer request?
A by-product of saying “no” is that it often results in lengthy conversations, anger, and escalations. These conversations drag on for longer than they have to and get more people involved than needed.
This applies to any type of customer requests you reject. But let’s start more broadly with a scenario we can all understand before we dig into rejecting discount, feature, and downright ridiculous customer service requests.
Support Sam: Hmm, I’m seeing you’re on a 6-month contract so it looks like we can’t do that.
Customer Cathy: Why!?
Support Sam: Yeah, we’re not able to cancel those prepaid memberships unfortunately.
Customer Cathy: Wow. I want to talk to a manager about this.
This conversation has already started off on the wrong foot. It’s negative and it reeks of a dead end. This could end quite poorly.
There’s always some kind of “yes”
However, it could look different if Support Sam used the ASK-THINK-SAY framework:
Let’s dig into why the ASK-THINK-SAY framework works. Then we’ll apply it to rejecting discount, feature, and ridiculous customer service requests.
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How to say no to customers in a positive way
Have you heard of alternative positioning? Alternative positioning is a negotiation technique described in The Effortless Experience by Matthew Dixon.
Dixon defines alternative positioning as, “A strategy designed to explore additional options with a customer—in many cases before the customer even knows they are not going to be able to get their first choice.”
Look at how, with a little creativity, freedom and skilled negotiation, you can come to a positive conclusion without saying the word “no”:
How to position an alternative
1. Figure out the customer’s underlying motivations.
The real work starts here, when a customer calls (or writes) in with a request. First, establish a rapport and find out what they’re trying to achieve. Doing this really helps you establish yourself as their advocate. It will also give you the context you’ll need in the next steps.
- “Why are you trying to do this?”
- “What would be the ideal resolution for you?”
- “Can you explain your current process further?”
2. Draw up a quick game plan.
Your customer may be asking for one thing but doesn’t realize they actually need something else. Or you may not able to offer them the exact outcome they’re asking for. Gather a couple alternative solutions while you’re talking to them. It might not be the same thing, but that’s why you’re getting creative.
- “How are other customers doing this?”
- “What workarounds can we try?”
- “What’s the end goal here?”
3. Tell them what you can do.
Armed with these alternatives, talk them through what you can offer them and how it can help them reach a resolution. It may not be their first choice, but most customers are willing to listen to and accept a different way as long as it helps resolve the problem they came for.
- “Have you thought of trying….?”
- “I have a great idea that would accomplish the same thing more easily.”
- “Other customers have seen success trying…”
Putting it all together.
Back to the example at the top. Cathy was trying to cancel her gym membership, but she was locked in as she signed a 6-month contract. Instead of saying “No”, we:
ASK: “Why are you looking to cancel your gym membership today?” (After poking around for awhile, she says she’s going out of town for two months and that she doesn’t want to pay for the gym while she’s away.)
THINK: “What workarounds can we try since I can’t cancel her prepaid membership?”
SAY: “Hmm, well it looks like you’re on a 6-month fixed contract. What I can do is put your account on hold for $5 a month and then you don’t need to cancel and re-register your membership. You can just pick it up again when you like. What do you think?”
Cathy doesn’t know the options available to her, but Sam does. Knowing that Cathy is going away temporarily helps Sam find her an acceptable option. It’s not her first choice, but at least this way she’s getting what she wants at a fraction of the cost and future hassle.
3 ways to reject customer requests or demands using alternative positioning
Now, let’s apply this framework to three more customer scenarios:
- How to reject a customer request for discount
- How to reject a customer feature request
- How to reject and handle ridiculous customer service requests
1. How to reject customer request for discount
Discounting can be tempting to speed up a slow moving deal. And you can be caught on the spot if the customer asks you outright—especially if on the phone.
Jurgen Appelo, speaker and writer, recommends asking “why?” He finds that a lot of buyers are just trying their luck or haggling for the sake of haggling. Jurgen explains:
“Sometimes, clients just love haggling, assuming there are always margins that can be squeezed. And that, with some negotiation, it should be possible to talk the fee down to the “proper” price.
“After I ask them, “Why?”, the clients sometimes tell me, “Oh, never mind. We were just wondering.” Then they proceed to pay my regular fee. I have no objections to that at all.
“Notice that I don’t say “no” to people who ask me for a discount. I merely ask them “Why?” because it’s quite possible that they have a very good reason! It all comes down to customizing the value exchange.”
Remember, discounting is completely down to the business or employer. Always double check your policies.
But if you really have to reject a customer request for discount because the prospect is so focused on price. Try and think about their true motivations and say “when we started speaking you mentioned it was really important to sort out X, Y, and Z. Is that still the case?”
And if they come back to budget again, keep this script in your locker “If budget is of most concern, then potentially this might not be the right solution for you at this time.”
2. How to reject a customer feature request
As much as you love your customers and their suggestions, you know it’s not possible to work and build all of their feature requests. But your customers hate to be told “no”. So how do you respond?
Remember the first step is to ask them and align with their needs. Mercer Smith-Looper, Director of Support at Trello demonstrates this perfectly in one of her customer service email templates:
One of the most valuable things you can get from these kind of emails is understanding what the true motivations are behind the customer’s request. Just as Mercer has done, Adii Pienaar, co-founder of WooThemes and Receiptful, uses this approach with each customer feature request.
Adii could have stopped at “Unfortunately…”, but asking the customer to explain what they’re pursuing, turns this into a learning event. Adii explains there’s two benefits to this:
“Firstly, this provides me with clarity about what the user was really asking or what they really wanted, which means I can explain how they can achieve that. Second, If that’s not the case, I’ve learnt how we can possibly evolve the product in future.”
By asking, aligning, and understanding the motivations of your customer, it allows you to get deeper insight into the feature request. Then you’re most likely left with two options:
- Helping the customer find a work around.
- Passing this feedback onto your product team and incorporating it into your next product cycle.
3. How to reject and handle ridiculous customer service requests
A support inbox has its ups and downs. It can be a source of pain with angry customer emails that feel like a punch to the gut, or you can have the more comical and ridiculous customer service requests that make you think, “I can’t believe you’ve asked for that.”
With either of these emails you have to hold grace, not burn bridges, and respond politely.
Saying no politely in an email can still give you trouble. It’s possible to be so polite that the sender may not be sure you denied the request or realigned their expectations.
We had an interesting situation where a visitor fired up Messenger and asked us about working at Kayako. All caps text aside, nothing unreasonable about this request. We pointed her to our careers page, and she followed up 4 hours later telling us she’d applied for one of our open support positions and wanted to find out the next steps in the application process.
Nothing wrong with this—proactive job hunting. Here’s where it becomes a ridiculous request.
A mere 24 hours later she followed up, expecting our People Ops team to have reviewed the application, passed it onto the support hiring manager, and decided whether or not she would be the right fit for the team. She wanted a follow up stat!
Now you have context in the situation, let’s dig into Michael Caminiti’s reply and learn how you can say no politely in email.
How to say no politely in email
Even when customer requests are ridiculous you have to reject or respond professionally.
- Always thank the reader. Notice how Michael begins the sentence by thanking her for her proactiveness in following up on her previous request. Acknowledging their actions means you’re off to a great start.
- State what you can do. Michael can’t promise a time when she’ll hear back from the hiring team, but he can set her expectations going forward.
- Reaffirm your answer at the end of the email. This is especially important if your email becomes long. But in our case, Michael finishes the email with “I appreciate your patience”, reaffirming that she will have to wait to hear back from the hiring team.
Now, it’s your turn.
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How do you reject a customer politely?
Declining a customer request shouldn’t be overwhelming. While great communication with your customers is an art, learning the fundamentals of communicating clearly is something that any support rep can learn. If you’re new to this, start by using the ASK-THINK-SAY framework. You will gather context and vital information about their query. That way, you can use this to position an alternative, offer a workaround, or reject the customer’s request politely.
The priority of any support conversation should be to deliver satisfaction to your customers. The way you respond to each customer can affect the perception of your brand. No matter how ridiculous the request is, treat every question with respect and avoid saying “No” at whatever cost.