Customer Service Tips: How to Say No to a Customer Request

how to say no to a customer

My niece, Sally, worked in a law office where the office manager said, “We try to never say no to our clients.” Sally replied, “But what if the answer is no? What if someone asks if I’m an attorney? What am I supposed to say?” The office manager’s intent was good. She wanted to use positive language to create customer satisfaction and provide excellent customer service. 

The problem is that sometimes the answer is no

Sometimes, in order to provide excellent customer service, members of the IT customer service team must decline a customer request. It’s not a matter of never saying no to a customer. It’s a matter of how you say no to maintain happy customers. Knowing how to say no to a customer is a critical skill for any customer service rep, IT or otherwise.

As IT customer service representatives, you’ll get requests for access to restricted resources, unauthorized software installations, and simplified password restrictions, among other things. You may run into customer issues such as end-users asking you to support their personal devices or gain access to a colleague’s device while the colleague is away from the office.

When you are put in the difficult position of having to say no, the following customer service tips can help make it a little easier and avoid a bad experience:

  • Offer an explanation. You can try saying something like, “After the recent ransomware attacks, we began requiring 2-factor authentication to help avoid such problems here. I know it’s an extra step, but it’s an important part of keeping our systems up and running.”
  • Offer options, so the person making the request doesn’t feel neglected.
  • Consider who’s making the request. If it’s a high-level executive or a high-value client, get your team lead on the phone right away to see if you can get authorization or escalation. If you have to make a decision on the spot, make sure to let your team lead know what happened as soon as possible.
  • Offer to escalate. As above, offer to escalate to your supervisor or someone in a better position to handle such requests.
  • Do you have the necessary permissions? If you don’t have the needed permissions to perform whatever the task is, you simply can’t do it. Again, offer to escalate.
  • Is there an alternative that would work for the person making the request? See if you can understand the business reasons behind the request. That may provide an insight into an acceptable alternative.

Customer service professionals know the worst thing you can do is just flatly turn down the request. That creates unhappy customers and a bad customer experience. Having to say no is one of the toughest customer interactions, but when you handle it correctly, using positive language, can help solve business problems, save valuable time, and produce loyal customers.

It’s important to remember that a company policy is in place for a reason. If, as an IT manager you find that your IT support members are placed in difficult circumstances by company employees, you may need to request an update to an internal knowledge base from the business owner providing clearer communication as to why certain layers of protection are in place.

Members of IT customer support teams understand that they’re often supporting mission-critical systems with tight security restrictions that be frustrating for end-users. By remembering that they’re dealing with real people, by using good customer service skills including emotional intelligence and avoiding technical jargon, combined with excellent technical skills, they can soothe customer concerns, head off negative experiences, and build customer loyalty.

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