Saying “No” to Customers

Sometimes, we can’t give customers what they want.  Customer perceptions of appropriate problem resolution vary widely, and not all of those customer expectations are reasonable.  We must occasionally say ‘no’ to customer requests.  Good customer service agents truly with to help their customers – so this can be a difficult task for those individuals.  There are several techniques that can help in these situations.


Focus on Options

Always attempt to provide alternative options when a customer’s request must be denied.  Providing a variety of choices places power back in the hands of the customer.  This is crucial as most customers feel as though they are operating from a place of little control.  This is why some customers will appear exceedingly angry over seemingly trivial issues.  Concentrate on what you ‘can’ do for the customer, not whatever you ‘cannot’.

Apologize with Sincerity

I’ve spoken with enough customer service agents over the years to know that “I’m sorry” is typically the immediate response to any presented problem.  The trouble with this is that apologies come off as insincere when it is obvious that they are scripted.  To start with, do not make an apology a standard response for customer service representatives.  Allow them to make use of the option at their discretion, and provide training on usage as appropriate.

Another useful technique for appropriate and meaningful apologies is the presentation.  The standard line: “I’m sorry you’re experiencing that issue” or some variation comes across as robotic.  A more meaningful statement would be, “I’m so sorry, let me see what I can do to help.”

Allow for Silence

There is a technique used in courtrooms wherein a prosecutor will make several statements and then stop without presenting a question.  The silence is meant to illicit a response from the witness.  Silence in customer service should not be construed as a time to present excuses or explanations.  Instead, use silence as opportunities to do one of the actions listed above or to question specifically, “Is there anything I can do to help resolve this issue?”  This last statement should only be used when there is no obvious course of action for the customer.


We may not be able to give customers everything they want – but we can treat them with respect and make efforts in good faith to resolve their issues.

Do you have suggestions for saying “no” to customers?  Leave a comment below!


About davidbernst

Hello! My name is David Ernst and you've reached my blog. I've spent my professional career as a teacher, customer service supervisor, and pediatric office manager.
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One Response to Saying “No” to Customers

  1. Pingback: On the Customers’ Team | PERCEPTIONS by David Ernst

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