“NO” Damages the Customer Experience


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Every major company is trying to discover how to provide a customer experience that will generate repeat business. Many are successful at delivering moments of WOW that get their customers’ attention. But all that time and effort go right out the window with the word “no.” There are many variations: “Can’t,” “Not allowed,” “Won’t.” All of them can destroy the ideal customer experience.

When I conduct a workshop, one of the graphics I use is a row of dominos in a perfect lineup, standing up straight and tall.  The question to my audience is: “What does this game have to do with the customer journey?”  Those tiles are positioned just right but are vulnerable to the slightest touch.   All your meticulous work will come to an end if a tile is placed in a precarious position or tapped the wrong way. Saying “NO” to a customer creates that risk.

A person hears a “no” and their brain automatically registers a negative emotion.

Even when a customer doesn’t get the answer they were hoping for, there is a sense of drawing back. The point is to tell the customer what can be done, instead of what can’t. Never saying no is about going to the next level while offering your full attention and knowing your stuff.

Last August I wanted to purchase a pair of gloves.  I’m a “boy scout” and like to be prepared – waiting until winter might mean a scarcity of cold weather gear. I asked the salesperson, “Do you have gloves in stock?”  He answered “NO.”  Nothing else.  No relayed indifference and goodbye, not interested in my business or seeing me again.

What would have been a better answer?  “I can help you even though we don’t have any gloves now.  I’ll speak to my manager and perhaps we can special order them.  Or, she can contact the manufacturer and find out when we expect delivery.  I’ll email or call you – what would you prefer?”  The result of that interaction is that a relationship has been created, even when the transaction resulted in no sale.  A great deal of information was gathered as well:  the customer’s name, how to reach them, and what they were looking for.

NO is not necessary.  There are so many alternatives, including checking with a competitor.  Use your imagination.  And, check and double-check to make certain that NO isn’t just the lazy way out.

There are many situations were no could be the first response; a company rule which can’t be bent, an item is out of stock, or a restaurant will not allow substitutions.  That’s life and business, too.  There will always be mishaps. What is important is how customer stress and disappointment is handled in order to preserve the relationship.  In fact, many times it’s an opportunity for a company to shine.

A prestigious cosmetics firm used to ship discontinued products to outlet stores.  Disappointed customers would call wanting that particular favorite shade of lipstick that was no longer available.  Our firm conducted a comprehensive satisfaction study, analyzed the root cause of the dissatisfaction.  It was discovered that customers were not only upset that the lipstick color was obsolete, but that there was no notice. It was abrupt.  The company was telling their most loyal consumers, some of whom had been purchasing specific products for over 10 years “NO”.

The leadership team went into action.  The fix was easy.  Some of the discontinued products were held back to be distributed by consumer affairs upon request. That simple change gave customer service reps a way to say “YES!” instead of no.  The conversation continued that a new color was very similar to the one they had been using.  Most importantly, the consumer knew the company understood and heard their frustration and offered a positive solution. Transitioning in that manner allowed loyal customers to remain loyal.

Before you say no, won’t or can’t, think about an alternative reply.  Let me check on that and get back to you by a specific time and day, let me ask my manager or fellow associates, let me do some research on the Internet, maybe there is another business that carries what you want are all good responses.   “NO” communicates that the customer’s loyalty journey is about end and usually in a very abrupt and disruptive manner.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Richard Shapiro
Richard R. Shapiro is Founder and President of The Center For Client Retention (TCFCR) and a leading authority in the area of customer satisfaction and loyalty. For 28 years, Richard has spearheaded the research conducted with thousands of customers from Fortune 100 and 500 companies compiling the ingredients of customer loyalty and what drives repeat business. His first book was The Welcomer Edge: Unlocking the Secrets to Repeat Business and The Endangered Customer: 8 Steps to Guarantee Repeat Business was released February, 2016.


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