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Saying No the Correct Way

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Most business professionals face a daily dilemma when serving others.  This challenge occurs more times than we’d care to admit.

A business transaction may be moving ahead smoothly, and then the customer stops to ask a question about the product, service or company policies.

Then anxiety builds up inside.  You would prefer to say “Yes,.” or “Certainly, our product can do that.”, or “I can ship it today.”  But you will not utter any of those phrases today because you must speak the truth.

The quandary of which I write is about how to say “No.”  Saying “No” might make you feel unpopular or appear like a killjoy.  Conveying seemingly bad news to someone else might bring to an end all of the goodwill that you have been creating while attempting to negotiate a sale or provide a service.  Regardless of how a service professional might feel personally about having to say “No” to a customer, sometimes the answer must be “No.”  What separates the seasoned professionals from amateurs in the sales and service business are three distinct behaviors: (1) knowing when to say “No”, (2) knowing why to say “No” and, (3) knowing how to say “No.”

The first key behavior involves a sense of timing and good listening skills.  Most service professionals have an instinctive sense when dealing with a customer that they must respond in the negative.  This “sixth sense” triggers our response to provide an immediate answer.  Our reply is communicated without any pause whatsoever on the heels of the customer inquiry.

This is not an acceptable reaction since timing is a vital communication skill.   We should allow ourselves a moment or two to formulate a qualifying question in order to ascertain the importance of the criteria.  As an example, if a customer were to ask “Can you get here this morning?” you might qualify your answer by conveying a helpful attitude and asking a subtle question.  Perhaps, something like this: “May I just have a minute to research our schedule?  And just so I know, might there be an afternoon time that also works?”

Your question conveys helpfulness and qualifies the criteria required to achieve customer satisfaction.

In this illustration, the technical answer to the question may be “No”.  However, with a pause, and some time to formulate a rational response – and a bit of finesse – a much more creative answer surfaced.

There will be instances when the consequences of doing what a customer requests will outweigh any benefits.  One such case might arise when a service professional risks the stability of his fulfillment system in order to satisfy the request of a specific customer.  In said circumstance, it is important that the customer understands why you can not carry out their request.  Any explanation must include the final key behavior: knowing how to say “No.”

The concept of knowing how to say “No” begins with an adherence to the fundamental principle of saying what you can do rather than what you can not do.  When a service professional conveys what they can do, it keeps the proverbial door open so that the dialogue with the customer may continue.  However, when a service professional resorts to what he can not do, it threatens to limit future dialogue as well a business relationship.

One of my clients has, with a simple phrase, heightened their service vernacular and the satisfaction of their customers.  That phrase is: “Here’s what I can do.”

This axiom is posted in the workstation of each of their customer service representatives, to keep it at the forefront of their mind.  It produces two key benefits: (1) it keeps the door open and, (2) it gives the service representative something to say while he thinks creatively about how to respond to customer demands.

When it comes to keeping customers satisfied and the door of business opportunities open, a little time may make all the difference.

Steve Coscia, CSP

Posted In: Sales & Marketing

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