Companies are in business to serve their customers, of that there can be no doubt. But serving your customers doesn’t always mean acquiescing to their demands or even doing business with them at all for that matter.
The fact is if you’re a home-based or other small business owner―and especially if you’re running only a one- or two-person shop―saying “yes” you’ll work for just any customer that comes along or to the prospect of doing even more work for the ones you’ve already got can be a really bad idea.
Now, it almost goes without saying that when you’re trying to make a living the quantity of customers you have may seem of utmost importance. And depending on the exact nature of the business you’re in, that may be true. But oftentimes it’s not. In fact, if what you produce or offer hinges on the time and resources you need to ensure the output of a fairly unique and high-quality product or service, then taking on too much can be a really bad business move in the long run.
Additionally, customers have a right to expect a certain level of effort from you to “make it happen.” After all, that’s what they’re paying for, right? However, there comes a time in the lifespan of some business-customer relationships where what the customer expects in the way of product, service, turnaround time, etc. becomes out of line or even downright unreasonable.
It’s in instances like these―where quality might be jeopardized by quantity or an out-of-control client needs to be reined in―that saying “no” is not only acceptable, it’s just plain smart. And we’re not talking smart from just a professional standpoint, but from a personal one as well. After all, your sense of pride, self- worth and self-respect is every bit as important to your overall success in business as the number of customers you have.
Okay, so saying “no” is acceptable and sometimes even necessary. The next critical piece of this whole thing is how to let customers down easy so that you don’t jeopardize your reputation or even their willingness to work with you in the future.
Thankfully, the conventional wisdom on this is pretty clear and can be summarized in three key steps:
- Offer a sincere apology for any inconvenience your decision or that of your organization might cause. And remember, the tone of your voice when you do this means everything. When you are sincere and remain calm and amenable, your customer is likely to return the favor.
- Explain why the decision was made and express that you wish things could be different, but that the fact is they’re not. If the explanation you provide is reasonable and makes sense, your customer shouldn’t have too much trouble adapting to the idea that his/her expectations will not be met. However, if things are heating up at this stage, it’s all the more reason why you need to give some really careful consideration to what you’re going to say or offer in the final step to saying “no” effectively, which is…
- Tell the customer what you can or are willing to do for them to make up for any inconvenience or disappointment caused by your or your company’s decision. If you’re turning down work because your plate is full at the moment, offer to revisit working together in a month or so when things have calmed down. Of course, if your potential customer needs something right away and you are either unable or unwilling to work with that person or company at that time or even in the future, you can earn a great deal of respect and generate good will by referring them to someone else. If the challenge is an unreasonable deadline or a quality issue, give careful consideration to how you can make it up to the customer in the way of a full or partial refund, by doing the job over in a reasonable amount of time or by providing a discount on their next order, visit or service, etc.
By offering a careful and measured three-part “no” response to your customers when it is called for, you and your business may very well be better off. Any good psychologist would tell you that the “disease to please” when taken to its extreme isn’t good for you or anyone around you―and that goes for your professional life every bit as much as it does for your personal one.