How to Say No to A Customer: Difficult but Indispensable

Everyone who works in customer service has been found in the cumbersome task of having to say no to a customer occasionally.

There are situations where we can’t avoid this difficult task. Either because we do not provide exactly the service that the client needs, because we do not have the operational capacity at that moment or simply because it is not the type of client we would like to work with, it is essential to do it in the right way.

Saying no to a client can be hurtful or even perceived as rude or discourteous. This is the reason why we must do it with a lot of tact. It is important to say no when we are unable to do what they ask, or when we believe there is a better solution to the client’s problem or need.

Even if we are selling or providing customer service, we have two options: to say no or knowing how to say no. To know how to say no to clients is to succeed in satisfying their requests and needs even by refusing something.

But first, you must dare to say no! Either for an unjustified request or during a complicated negotiation, it is important to know how to refuse. To do this, you must go around 3 barriers:

  • The fear. The fear of losing the client or losing a sale if you say no.
  • The desire to make things easy. It’s easier to say yes and close a low margin sale or an unsustainable deadline. The agent ensures its turnover. Too many agents still have this point of view.
  • The effect of surprise or lack of preparation. The agent did not expect such an objection, especially at this precise moment of the negotiation. So, had no argument. He said yes, where should have said no.

Whatever the reason, accepting a request that should have been refused will sooner or later hurt you. Difficulties to respect the commitment can bring more problems. Worse, the customer will get used to seeing you accept complicated requests.

Even oddly enough, to say no to a client has several benefits:

  • You gain the client’s respect. The clients will respect you if they see that you have your own point of view and do not do what is asked without questioning. We are not trying to please at any cost, we are trying to build a reputation based on our experience, principles and professional ethics.
  • It is not the best thing for the client. Although at first glance it can be uncomfortable for a client, explaining why you consider something is not the best for him or her at that moment, will be something that he will appreciate because at the end of the day he appreciates your expert opinion.
  • Focus on the important. You cannot accept everything from everyone. Taking too many things takes away the time you should spend on other tasks, many of them more strategic.
  • Maintain your integrity. It is important to avoid excuses and to tell customers kindly the truth. Sometimes the truth is that you do not want to focus on what a client request, or that at the moment, you do not have the time to do it in the right way.

Did you understand the request?

In a negotiation, what is said is rarely the pure truth. What interests each interlocutor is to get what he wants at the end of the interview. Hence the interest of being absolutely certain to have understood what the customer wants, including what is not expressed. It is the quality of the agent and the questions-answers and reformulations that will achieve this goal. Check the needs, interests, requests… And once you have this information, you can refuse more flexibly.


To say no, you must be firm and trust.

Do you trust a salesperson who whispers a slight “no”? The customer either!

Show him that you know what you are talking about and that your no is thoughtful. You must manage to explain your refusal (not justify it!) And show that you are not opposed to the good of the customer. This will increase your professionalism and show that you know your subject. Be natural and sincere with your client. You will only be more convincing.

To say no effectively is a technique to master, it is not innate. It is essential that your refusal to be legitimate and not a justification! Once assimilated, the refusal will differentiate you from those who accept everything.

The most important thing to remember: knowing how to say no to a customer means giving a lot more weight and impact the next time you say yes!


Demonstrate the risk of a “yes”.

Sometimes may be wise after explaining your refusal, to do the same with the risks involved in the “yes”. This phase is delicate. To know how to say no is to be relevant.

To say no, you must propose an alternative. When you refuse, you must give the customer a solution, otherwise, the frustration will not settle down. Your negotiating experience will allow you to propose an alternative that benefits the client. If you are skilled, he will even be happy to have seen his first request rejected in favor of the proposed solution.


These are some situations in which you must say no and how to do it in the best possible way:

  1. When you cannot accept work.

Especially for those who provide professional services, the limitation of time available is a frequent cause where you must decline to client requests. If, for example, you are a doctor and you do not have appointments available for three months, instead of saying a curt “We do not have appointments until February of next year,” you can say “Although we do not have appointments in the coming weeks, contact us in case someone cancels”, or ”Unfortunately we do not have appointments for the next few weeks, but I would be happy to recommend a colleague. ”

  1. When it does not solve what the client needs.

If for example a client request from you a service that you do not offer, and you know that it is something that does not work, you could say, “I appreciate your request. However, that is not our specialization. We focus on this or that subject”, this approach raises the possibility of selling something that the customer did not know you were providing.


  1. When there is no chemistry.

There are situations where your business does what your client needs, but it does not fit into what you have previously defined as your target customer. In this case, a kind way to decline is to recognize that you focus on other types of needs, other types of projects, other markets or other types of services. Recommend another company that can serve this customer will always be an alternative.


  1. When the customer asks for a discount you cannot afford.

While you cannot agree to give discounts that are not authorized, you can previously design alternatives to negotiate profitably. You can offer options or another element that represents a benefit for both your client and you.


  1. When what the client asks is not the best for him.

A client appreciates your knowledge and recommendations. You should not access requests that you know are not the best for your client. Take the time to explain why the alternative they propose may not be the best for their needs and what options you must solve it according to your experience and what you consider is better. Remember that when it comes to what you sell, the customer is not always right. However, orient it kindly about what it should be.


In conclusion…

Clients are stronger than we think. The key to an honest and direct “no” is to come to the point. It is not necessary to apologize or leave with excuses. Do not hesitate to be open and frank.

Finding the strength to say no when the moment requires it, can make us grow personally and professionally. Each situation is unique, but with these guidelines, we will get out of the trance better.

It is not a question of justifying oneself, but of making one’s decision clear. Authoritarian refusals without explanations always seem arbitrary. People do not respect an arbitrary power. If you want to the respect of your customers, explain clearly why you refused. It is without appeal, but transparent.

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