Sometimes You Can’t Say Yes – Shep Hyken

In a perfect customer service world, we would never have to tell a customer “no.” But in real life, there are situations in which it is unavoidable. No one likes to be told “no,” and it can create a negative environment that has to be overcome. Karen Leland and Keith Bailey address some reasons you might have to say no in their excellent book, Customer Service for Dummies. Let’s discuss some of the main situations and how we can handle them.

To uphold the law

This one is obvious – when you are asked to do something that is against the law. Any reasonable customer will understand why you can’t comply.

Company policy

If you are telling a customer that you can’t do something because of “company policy,” there should be a sensible reason behind the policy. Sometimes it seems as if “company policy” is simply used as a blanket excuse for a business to avoid putting any thought or effort into customer service. If I visit a restaurant and am not permitted to make a substitution in my meal order – corn instead of green beans, for example – please be able to tell me why it is policy to not allow such changes. I will be a happier customer if I understand that inventory is specifically allotted – or whatever reason – than if you simply claim “company policy.”

Out of stock

In spite of a company’s best efforts, there may be times when an item that a customer wants is not available. Perhaps a product sold better than was expected, or a shipment from the manufacturer was delayed. How far are you willing to go to keep the customer happy? Legend has it that this situation occurred at Nordstrom’s, and the employee asked the customer to return in 15 minutes. In the meantime, the employee ran to another store, purchased the item at retail price, returned to Nordstrom’s, and when the customer came back, was able to offer the item for sale. That might not be practical as a business model, but it does show a great dedication to customer service. Some retailers, if they are out of stock, will direct customers to a competitor, perhaps even calling the other store and having the product held for the customer. It definitely does show customers you are interested in their needs, not just the bottom line, and they are usually appreciative. If it is necessary to simply tell the customer when the item will be back in stock, make sure it is there when you say it will be. Keep your promises.

It’s impossible

There’s impossible, and then there’s impossible. What I mean by that is, some items truly are impossible to get; however, others may be obtainable if you research other sources. Or, perhaps there is a suitable replacement? If it really is not possible, educate the customer as to why you can’t get what they want.

A reluctant “yes”

It is not good customer service when you reluctantly tell a customer “yes” after a bout of argument. I pulled up to the entrance of a parking lot recently only to be told by the attendant that the lot was full. I argued that I had seen empty spaces in the lot from the street while driving by. The attendant insisted that it was full, and refused to actually check for open spaces for a full five minutes. When he finally did and waved me in, it was more like an angry gesture. Even though I was able to park my car, I was not happy with the service. A forced “yes” is not a positive thing. Good customer service would have been knowing that the spaces were open, or listening to what the customer was saying and checking for parking spaces sooner.

Turn the “no” around

Many times when you are forced to tell a customer “no,” you still have options to present to keep the good customer service alive. Often, substitution is a viable solution. If you are working behind the counter at an ice cream parlor and a customer orders a variety that is out, suggest another flavor. The 7 p.m. showing of a movie is sold out? Give the customer options for other films that are showing, or the time of the next screening plus recommendations for nearby dining or shopping to enjoy in the meantime. At times it may take a creative approach to change the “no” into a “no, but …” However, if you have the right attitude and a dedication to customer service, it can usually be done.

Remember these ideas the next time you have to tell a customer or client “no.” Be flexible and stay on your toes and you can create Moments of Magic in even the most challenging times.

Shep Hyken is a customer experience expert and the Chief Amazement Officer of Shepard Presentations. He is a New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestselling author and has been inducted into the National Speakers Association Hall of Fame for lifetime achievement in the speaking profession. Shep works with companies and organizations who want to build loyal relationships with their customers and employees. For more articles on customer service and business go to


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Employee Stress – How Your Customer Is Impacted

During my many years in the customer service industry, I’ve learned that what you see is not always what is. Now I know the last part of the preceding sentence may not be grammatically correct (I can hear my late mother saying “Where is the rest of the sentence boy?”) As a consumer, I sometimes encounter not so pleasant customer service personnel. Unlike a lot of consumers, I’ve had an “inside view” of one ingredient that can cause an employee to sometimes interact with customers in a not so customer friendly manner – stress. I know a lot of customer service managers may say there is never a reason or excuse to be rude or indifferent to a customer and I agree. In reality, I also know that employee stress can contribute to some unpleasant customer experiences. What is seen (or heard) is an employee that did not provide the best possible service to the customer. What is often unseen are internal company or personal issues that customer service personnel endure while attempting to provide a positive customer service experience. Let’s look at possible contributors to employee stress and how your customer is impacted.

1. Inadequate training – In order for employees to effectively deliver great customer service, they must receive the proper product/service knowledge training. When employees are ill-equipped to service the customer, a rise in the stress level for both the employee and the customer are sure to follow. In my opinion, most customer service personnel want to provide a great customer service experience. A comprehensive training program is necessary to insure they have the proper tools to do so. As an inadequately trained employee repeatedly encounters customers, a sense of frustration sets in which will eventually become evident to the customer via body language or voice inflections. Refrain from sabotaging employees by providing adequate training. Customer interactions are often longer than necessary when being serviced by an improperly trained employee. It’s important to remember that your customer’s time is valuable.

2. Unrealistic workload – This is one contributor that is often chalked up to both company growth and workforce reduction. When employees are overloaded for extended periods, the customer suffers via a hurried interaction, missed deadlines and multiple errors. This can mean the customer has to contact the company multiple times to get the proper service. If the interaction is face to face, oftentimes it’s necessary to get management involved in order to properly address the customer’s needs. The employee often gets an unfair performance review as the workload and performance standards are imbalanced. An employee’s stress level is sure to rise when he/she is held to an unrealistic performance standard. Once again the employee becomes frustrated when asked to perform for extended periods under these conditions and a service level decline is sure to follow. I’ve often witnessed tenured employees choose to take their skills elsewhere rather than enduring an imbalanced work environment. The customer suffers as a result due to now having to interact with less tenured employees.

3. Fear – Now this contributor has no place in an organization seeking to provide great customer service. Fear is a paralyzer. It usually takes form via threats in regards to meeting performance goals; an unwillingness to allow the employees to have a voice or retaliation when one voices opinions other than the message management wishes to be heard. Fearful employees are rarely at their best when servicing customers. Fear can cause one to not think clearly or exercise good problem solving skills. Organizational fear impacts your customer via the loss of employee brain power. The creation of a customer focused organization is highly improbable as fear tends to greatly reduce one’s creative abilities. An organization seeking to improve its customer service experience must first seek to totally eradicate this unhealthy stress contributor. A fear filled environment is not conducive to idea sharing and team building. Most employees chose not to remain in a fear driven organization. Stress from such an environment usually causes tenured personnel to voice their opinion by choosing to work elsewhere.

Unhealthy stress is not good for employees. Customers are eventually impacted when contributors to unhealthy stress go unaddressed. Check your organization for evidence of unhealthy stress contributors. The long-term success of your employees and your organization is at stake.


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Today’s Customers – What Do They Want?

I’ve noticed something different about today’s customer. Unlike the customer of yesteryear who did not have easy access to product information and multiple avenues by which to locate and purchase products, the customer of today can easily access information, compare prices and formulate product or service questions in the comfort of their home or office. The question of “What does today’s customer want?” often comes to mind. Here’s what I think they’re looking for.

Convenience – Lifestyles have changed over the years. People are working longer hours. More and more of us are working from home. The internet has assisted in making the world a twenty-four hour marketplace. Today’s customer wants the convenience of researching and making purchasing decisions without having to leave their home or office. Does your web presence allow them the ability to acquire enough knowledge about your product or service to make a purchasing decision? Is it possible to make a purchase right now? Twenty-four hours a day? On the other side of the world? Can they make purchases via their smartphone? Now I know this one may be a little tough, but can they communicate with someone within your organization when it’s convenient for the customer? I know this may mean asking the customer to email your organization, but can they feel confident that someone will respond within a reasonable amount of time? The busy customer of today wants to have the ability to do business with your company at their convenience.

Knowledgeable Workforce – Because your customer has the ability to perform their own research regarding your product or service, they expect your employees to know even more! Have you ever asked questions regarding a product or service only to feel that you knew more than the employee? Your customer expects your employees to be experts. Are your employees trained properly? Do they know the history of your company? Do they know how your products are made? Materials required to manufacture the product? Can they provide comprehensive answers regarding your service concept? Are they familiar with your competitor’s products/services and how they compare to your offerings? When today’s customer interacts with your company, they want assistance from competent, knowledgeable employees.

Speed – Today’s customers are busy with the everyday hustle and bustle of life. The idea of dealing with inefficient processes and procedures when attempting to do business with your company is very unappealing. Your customer wants to be serviced in a timely manner. Today’s customer wants to utilize technology to assist in reducing the amount of time required to make purchasing decisions and completing transactions. Is purchasing products or services a simple process for your customer? Once your customer makes a purchasing decision, how long does it take to complete the transaction? What’s the wait time at your retail locations before the customer is serviced? Are you aware of your peak periods and staffed accordingly? Can your customer easily find products or services on your website? Is your customer able to walk into one of your “brick and mortar” sites and quickly locate their items of choice? Make sure that your company allows your customer to quickly and efficiently conduct business.

Consistency – The customer of today wants to know that they will receive the same level of service every time they choose to do business with your company. Whether it’s through your website, over the phone or in person, your customer wants to know that they can count on your company to consistently deliver a great customer experience. As we stated previously; speed, convenience and a knowledgeable workforce are key ingredients required to service today’s customer. Can you provide these ingredients for every customer – during every interaction? I hear someone saying “For every customer Errol – during every interaction?” Yes, for every customer – during every transaction. Consistency is one of the building blocks in creating both customer retention and customer loyalty. Your level of consistency is key to building trust with your customer. Make sure that your customer consistently receives a high level of service regardless of how they choose to conduct business with your company. Does the customer receive a high level of service at all of your retail locations? Does it matter which customer service person interacts with the customer in regards to the level of service provided? Your customer expects your service delivery to be consistent across all channels and from all company personnel.

A Great Mobile Access Experience – Technology has created a multitude of avenues that assist your customer in their daily living. Today’s customer can make dinner reservations, and check for parking availability near the restaurant directly from their smartphone. Does your company take advantage of technology to create a better mobile experience for your customer? Do you have a mobile website? How would your customer rate your mobile website? Are you aware of what percentage of your customers found you via your mobile website? According to Compuware, fifty – seven percent of consumers would not recommend a business with either a bad mobile website or no mobile website. Forty percent have turned directly to a competitor’s mobile website after a bad mobile website experience. Does your mobile website provide enough information for your customer to take the next step: call you or visit in person. A smartphone usage study (The Mobile Movement) from Google in 2011 reveals that a positive mobile experience drives traffic to your business. The study found that after conducting a local search, sixty-one percent of smartphone users called the business, fifty-nine percent visited the business in person and ninety percent of callers or visitors did so within twenty-four hours.

In today’s marketplace, your competitors are no longer just in the same local area, state or even the same country. The customer of today has many purchasing options. Garner your share of today’s customers by including the ingredients of Convenience, A Knowledgeable Workforce, Speed, Consistency and A Great Mobile Access Experience.


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Do The Unexpected

Every entrepreneur or business owner strives to get the attention of potential customers and to retain existing customers (You do have a retention strategy right?) I often hear business owners discussing what’s required to separate themselves from their competitors. A word of advice that I offer is to do the unexpected. Now I know someone is asking “What does that mean Errol?”. Let me explain.

Doing the unexpected means taking positive action in a manner that sets your business apart from your competition. It could mean following-up immediately after service delivery to gauge your customer’s satisfaction level. How about contacting your customer a few days after they purchase your product to say thank you and to inquire about their usage experience. Did your cable service provider call you after installation of their product in your home? Think about sending a personal handwritten ‘Thank You” note to your customers. How many of these have you received lately? If your business provides services at your customer’s site, call to make arrangements for an onsite inspection. These are all simple yet effective ways of “doing the unexpected.” Recently, it was necessary to hire a new lawn care company. After choosing a company, I was a little surprised that no communication was received after the initial service. It didn’t help their cause that I in fact was not exactly pleased with their service. I quickly changed to a different lawn care service provider.

Doing the unexpected will assist in creating loyal customers. My wife Theresa is a virtual assistant here in Houston, Tx. I remember her personally delivering a small gift to each of her clients as a way of saying “Thank You” for being my customer. Imagine their response to this unexpected act of customer appreciation. Is it possible for you to personally thank your customers? If yours is a large organization, I would suggest upper management spend time calling customers just to say thank you for being a customer. Can you think of many large companies where upper management actually takes the time to randomly call customers – no matter the size of the customer’s business or the size of their revenue contribution? Have you ever received a random phone call from upper management of a company to gauge your level of satisfaction?Imagine the impact of such an “unexpected” phone call.

There may be situations when your customer is unhappy with your product or service. After resolving the issue to the customer’s satisfaction, how about refunding the cost of your product/service and providing the next purchase/service rendering for free. A month of free service to a monthly subscriber who’s experienced an unwarranted service interruption is a way to express how important that customer is to your business. I believe that most customers are not expecting an offer of this type. Hopefully you don’t have very many unhappy customers, but think about the resulting impression of taking this “unexpected” step. The signal sent says “We want to retain you as a customer.”

Most customers have a particular method for communicating. Some prefer a phone call or email while others prefer a text message. Instead of asking the customer to fall in line with your preferred method of communicating. Do the “unexpected” by determining their preferred method of communicating. How many of your service providers asks for your preferred method of communicating? Doing so tells your customer that you’re willing to communicate in a manner that’s comfortable for them – the customer. Now I know attempting to communicate in your customer’s preferred method may be a little difficult for large companies. Is it possible to place the customer’s preferred method in your customer relationship management (CRM) tool? Your customer contact personnel can utilize this information when attempting to connect with the customer. Communicating with your customer in their preferred manner will certainly set you apart from your competition.

There are situations that arise which may cause your customer to wait to be serviced. What can you do for your customer during this pause in the service experience? Is it possible to offer a free beverage if your business is a restaurant? If you’re in the retail business, can you offer a ten or 20 percent off coupon for your customer’s next visit as a way to say “Thanks for being patient with us!” If your customer orders online and incurs a delay through no fault of their own in receipt of your product, in addition to resolving the current issue, do the “unexpected” by offering free shipping on their next order. More than likely, you’ll get a positive response (repeat business) for your “unexpected” goodwill gesture.

When it comes to satisfying your customer, do the unexpected to increase the possibility of a higher level of customer retention. Think for a moment about how often you are the recipient of “unexpected” gestures from service providers. Very often or not at all? Are there opportunities to do the unexpected for your customers? Take a look around. I think you can come up with a few!


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