While it's tempting to never turn away business (or an out-of-scope request from a customer), you know what's best for your company. And that means turning people down sometimes, particularly if meeting their demand will drain resources and time you can't afford to spend.
That's why we asked several founders from Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) how to deliver a firm, polite 'no'--without severing the relationship completely. Their best tips are below.
1. Genuinely hear their request.
Try to make sure you let the customer know you're HEARING them by using words like, "I understand." If they're going for something that you simply can't deliver, tell them, "I understand their situation, but unfortunately, that's outside of our control"--or whatever terms apply. If you simply shut them down, you've burned a bridge.--Rob Fulton, Exponential Black
2. Focus on what you CAN do.
Restate the problem and that you understand how upset they must be. Offer multiple solutions so they'll know you're on their side. Focus on the things you are able to do, rather than the ones you aren't.--Andrew Schrage,Money Crashers Personal Finance
3. Be gentle and provide next steps.
It's important to be real and upfront with your customers but in a gentle manner. They are the most valuable part of your business, and you need to be transparent if you want them to use your product or service again. When saying no, inform them of your company policies and always offer a solution or next step, as this will show what you're doing to better the situation.--George Bousis, Raise Marketplace Inc.
4. Don't waste time, but don't burn bridges either.
'Churn' customers hurt profitability. It costs a ton to get first-time customers. These vampires suck customer service time and sometimes worse, executives' time. Before saying no, remember your reputation. The way you say it and send the customer on their way is critical, so suggest a better solution and thank them for their business. They'll usually appreciate rather than flame you.--Joshua Lee, StandOut Authority
5. Decline with gratitude.
You never want to burn a bridge--nor do you want to compromise yourself to satisfy a customer. Say no with kindness and gratitude and you'll do so while maintaining your own values.--Alexis Wolfer, The Beauty Bean
6. Offer alternatives.
As a business owner, it may be hard to reject a customer. But it is critical that you selectively say no to avoid spending more than you'll get in return. A diplomatic way to turn away a customer is by suggesting alternative providers who may offer the exact product or service they are looking for. This approach is generally well received because you are still going out of your way to help them.--Firas Kittaneh, Amerisleep
7. Position yourself as the expert.
I often have to respectfully remind my clients that I'm the expert in marketing, and they are the expert in their field. I know what I'm doing, and that's why they hired me. If something isn't best for their marketing efforts (i.e. it won't get them leads) I would be doing them a disservice to not say something. So, "No, I don't think that's best for you" usually works pretty well.--Maren Hogan, Red Branch Media
8. Be clear, transparent and upfront.
The best way to say no to a customer is not to say no. Provide them with not only alternative solutions to their problem, but solutions that go above and beyond to demonstrate the value you place on the relationship. If you have to say no, be clear, transparent and upfront about it so you don't miscalibrate expectations.--Basha Rubin, Priori Legal
9. Ask them to step into your shoes.
Empathy is key here. If they understand where your company is and where you are, they'll understand why you're not able to comply with their requests without losing their respect. Maintaining their respect means next time they need you, they might come back with terms you can agree on.--Pablo Villalba, 8fit