10 Suggestions To Remove "No" From Your Company's Vocabulary

There is one two-letter word in the English language that kills customer loyalty the moment it is spoken? That word is "NO."

There are many different versions of "NO." One of the most popular is, "I don't know." Others are: "I can't," "We are not allowed," "The system won't let me," or, "Rules are rules." None of these should ever be said to a customer. Such flat refusals will always leave customers with a negative impression. The memory lingers and creates a reason never to do business with your company again.

It's impossible to gauge exactly how many customers are lost forever in those dismissive exchanges. One outcome is certain, however, that whatever goodwill your staff builds with customers by providing a great customer experience will be destroyed in an instant once someone says "NO!"

Here are my top 10 suggestions to positively position what an associate says to a customer:

  1. When an associate answers the phone, always say, "I can help you with that," after the customer asks his question or states her concern. This consistently initiates the experience on a positive note. The word "I" is the shortest word, but it has tremendous impact and punch. Customers like when they reach an associate who is proactive and takes responsibility for assisting them. It also makes the customer feel welcome and gives him hope he has reached the right person to get the job done.
  2. Listen to the underlying reason for the customer's emotion; are they frustrated, disappointed, concerned, etc.? Then acknowledge the emotion. "I hear you are frustrated and I can help you." That affirmation builds a connection and communicates to the customer that she is talking to a person who is a good listener.
  3. Don't ever tell the customer "no" without checking with a manager. And while we're on the topic of managers, they should never to say "no" without brainstorming with their peers about the situation first.
  4. Always put a positive spin on negative messaging. For example, one national retailer trains its staff to respond to inquires about store closing hours by telling the caller instead when the store will be open. That minor flip changes everything and has a dramatic effect.
  5. Understand the longer it takes to get back to a customer, the less important he feels. My accepted rule is two hours for phone messages and four hours to email during the business day. When an issue requires more than the estimated turnaround time, keep the customer informed. That confirmation is always appreciated.
  6. Be flexible about policies. Customers, especially long-term or loyal ones, have no tolerance when they are quoted a rule or policy that absolutely has no exceptions.
  7. Speak to your legal department. Tell them when policies don't make sense. To the surprise of many, lawyers can be very reasonable, especially when presented with customer feedback. Have the legal department listen to phone calls. Unfriendly, unreasonable company policies become more evident when witnessed first hand.
  8. Conduct an employee survey by an independent third party. Ask associates if they are instructed to tell customers something they are uncomfortable saying. For instance, "I never heard of that happening," when, in fact, the associate has encountered that situation other times. Additionally, get feedback and suggestions from the front lines about how to reduce escalations.
  9. Provide training for associates about phrasing when speaking to customers. Specify and practice how to turn a negative into a possible positive. At your next staff meeting, review your policy and training manuals to pinpoint which protocols are essential or standard for your business and create new scripting that will be customer-friendly.
  10. Give your associates a budget to say "YES." It's critical to empower all of your staff to make customers happy. Don't be penny-wise and pound-foolish.

I am frequently asked if I support the motto that the customer is always right. I do, because from my experience, 99 percent of the time, the customer is right. If your company or department is going to manage and create policies based on the 1 percent that isn't, the other 99 percent is in jeopardy.

Customer loyalty takes years to build and a moment to destroy. Don't allow your company's history and legacy of hiring the right people and then training them to be customer-friendly and knowledgeable about your company's products and services be forfeited.

Heed the proverb, "Measure twice, cut once." Before you tell a customer "NO" don't just think once. Keep thinking until there can be a way to say, "YES."

Richard Shapiro is founder and president of the Center for Client Retention.