Customer Service Experience

How Saying “No” Can Actually Help the Customer Service Experience

Maybe you’ve heard the proverb “Knowledge is knowing what to say. Wisdom is knowing whether or not to say it.” It’s a classic piece of folk wisdom that connects to customer service and the age-old question of whether contact center agents should have “no” in their vocabulary.

While there are cases when agents should avoid using “no” and “unfortunately” in conversations with customers, they remain useful—and sometimes necessary—words. Let’s look at customer service situations that require creative responses and sometimes even a “no” from a brand.

When an honest “no” is necessary

Imagine a customer asks for something the company just can’t do. Software functionality, for example. Should the customer service agent accept the client’s request and say, “We will get back to you as soon as possible,” knowing that the job cannot be done? Hardly. When you want to be honest and helpful, there are situations when you need to say “no” and make it clear.

Don’t lie trying to be nice to a customer. If you can do something for them, do it. But be honest. You will serve your customers better if you tell them clearly where you are, so that they can navigate their position also.

How to avoid saying “no” when it’s not necessary

Still, there are moments when “no” carries a negative connotation and many people won’t respond well to it. Push yourself for creative solutions to customers’ issues and to say yes as many times as you can. But no solutions can come without understanding their goals. If you don’t understand the customer’s intention clearly ask what they want to achieve, and don’t be afraid to ask follow-up questions.

  • Be certain that you have understood the customer’s request correctly. What are they trying to achieve?

When you understand their situation precisely you probably have something to offer. If not a solution, at least advice or valuable information. Search your knowledge base and past tickets with similar keywords or tags to think of how other customers have addressed a similar issue. Then give suggestions based on that experience. 

  • Offer alternative solutions even if you cannot give the exact solution the customer is seeking.

Paying attention to these two things will allow you to reduce frustrations from negative answers, which often happen in customer service due either to the agent’s lack of knowledge, or a misunderstanding of the customer’s problem.

Dealing with negative reactions to a “no”

There will always be customers who get angry at you for saying “no” and will keep demanding that you do something even if you can’t. It’s like a customer ordering their favorite meal from a restaurant that simply doesn’t serve that favorite meal. When customers cannot accept “no” for an answer, they may try to manipulate the situation and emotionally blackmail the agent just to get what we want. What’s the best response to such behavior?

First, make sure you have a strategy and your agents are trained to deal with complaining customers so they will not lose their temper. This infographic should be of help to you in devising a plan for handling difficult customers.

Secondly, avoid wasting time and emotional energy trying to please this kind of customer. One needs to be kind but strict. Be as helpful and polite as you can while maintaining a clear stance on what solution you can deliver. Particularly on a public forum like Facebook or Twitter, other customers will appreciate your commitment to resolution without "feeding the trolls".

Mark Hillary of the CX Files recently interviewed me about an omnichannel experience and putting the customer first. By having a digital first mindset, contact centers can seamlessly talk to customers across platforms, so the customer isn't repeating themselves and getting answers quickly on the channel of their choice.  

The final word

Knowing when and how to say “no” to a customer is real customer service wisdom and an essential skill that needs to be nurtured in every customer service employee. It takes intuition, attention and experience to master, but sometimes no is the best answer.