Ryan Bush

Businesses face difficult situations when a customer asks for something and the answer should be no. The human emotions that make these situations difficult are most often fear, greed and the need to please. The need to please is simple to deal with, learn that no is an ok answer. Fear and greed are more difficult for a business to address when saying no to a customer, because they manifest themselves through two concerns:

  1. The loss of immediate cash flow
  2. The loss of potential future referrals (loss of future cash flow).

The key to protecting the business from saying yes is to prepare for difficult questions, and protect the business from yourself.

Developing a brand means clearly defining the services or products a business offers, and sticking to the definition through every aspect of the business. Define your services at a time when cash flow is not an issue. Write down as much detail about your services, what they are and how they are provided. Describe the entire customer experience from the moment you meet a lead, to onboarding them as a client, to support and finally to termination of the relationship. In addition to defining the services, take the time to define what customers and services you do not provide. If you take the time to write down the definition of your services, and the services you wish to avoid providing, then when you are faced with a difficult decision.

Loss of immediate cash flow is often a more blinding issue which will cause an owner to agree to services that may or may not be within the scope of the business. The simplest way to avoid making the mistake of saying yes when you should be saying no because of cash flow is to apply the customer’s request to the definitions you created for your services or products. If the customer is asking you for something that you do not provide or something you listed you wish to avoid then say no. Immediate cash flow concerns is one of the greatest blinders for decision making. Protect your brand and the long term success of your company by protecting it from poor short term decision making based on fear or greed.

Developing, and growing, sales is often based on word of mouth referrals from your customers. As a business owner you are conscious of the value a satisfied customer, as a satisfied customer with a big mouth is likely to provide referrals. The perception of a satisfied customer telling everyone about your great service or product can be a blinding factor when faced with a customer request. Therefore, when a customer asks for something that you are unsure about saying yes to, revisit your definitions of services. If the customer is asking for a service you do not provide or is asking for something you explicitly want to avoid then say no. Do not let the fear of losing out on potential future business cloud your decision making. Assume you are correct and the person tells everyone about the great service you provided. They are going to be telling everyone about a service you did not want to provide which causes even greater damage to your brand. Remember by saying yes in the short term you are damaging your brand and business in the long term.

The other issue here is when you say yes to provide a service you do not offer the end product suffers—which ultimately makes for an unhappy customer. Unhappy customers become former customers, and disgruntled former customers do not provide referrals or positive publicity the way a happy client does.

The single most important thing to growing a business is defining then protecting your brand. Customers are sometimes difficult to please, but they can be even more difficult to come by when they do not understand your services or product. Be very careful when saying yes to a customer, and use the definitions you create when you are not faced with a difficult decision to guide your decision making when it is difficult. Protect your brand and long term success through short term decision making.