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Should the customer always be treated as the 'King'?

'The customer is always right! The customer is king!' Indeed, being an entrepreneur is all about customer satisfaction but you don't have to be a slave to them.

November 15, 2012 / 06:02 PM IST

Mukti Shah

If the following thoughts haunt you, you may need to rewire your thinking: ‘The customer is always right! The customer is king!’ Indeed, being an entrepreneur is all about customer satisfaction but you don’t have to be a slave to them.

Many entrepreneurs are loathe to upsetting their customers, worried that it will impact their business. So they bend over backwards to accommodate their every whim. But as any seasoned entrepreneur will tell you, there are many situations where they wished they had put their foot down.

Reasons for refusing customers can include:
1. Unreasonable/unethical demands
2. Shortage of time needed to execute project
3. Lack of manpower
4. Policy or legal constraints
5. Disagreement over what customer considers the right solution

But how do you turn down a customer without driving him to the competition or leaving him resentful? Here’s how you can do this without damaging relationships.

1. Always Buy Time
It is well within your rights to take the time to think about a request before making any commitments. Ask yourself if you simply have to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ right now or whether it benefits you to delay your decision. A simple, ‘we will get back to you’ can work wonders in a potentially volatile situation. But offer a time frame within which you will revert with your reply.

2. Never Fib
Customers appreciate you being upfront on what is and what isn’t possible. Perhaps it’s a deadline you cannot meet or you won’t have the product in until later. Let the customer know and you may still be able to accommodate the customer under different terms. Honesty engenders trust and the customer is assured that you have their best interests at heart. It is better not to accommodate a customer if you know that you will not be able to deliver the quality expected.

3. Offer Alternative Solutions
An alternative solution is a great way to say ‘no’ without the customer even realising it. You’re showing that you want to help but you’re also saying that you can’t step in. Refer your customers to someone else who could potentially help them if you can’t. Not only does this give the customer a chance to get what they need but it also gives you a chance to be resourceful with your current network.

4. Express Sympathy
While offering alternatives is an excellent way to generate a win-win outcome, it may not always be possible to do so. It is important that you tell the customer that you understand just how important their request is even if you can’t say ‘yes’. This softens the blow and makes them see that you can see their point of view but are simply not able to help. For example, you can say: ‘I understand that it is important for you to get this done today but I am really busy and would rather say no than to give it half my attention.’

5. Focus On What Can Be Done
Often we refuse customers or insist that they do something because it is ‘company policy’. But customers respond more favourably when they hear what you can do or have. So instead of saying, ‘You cannot get this product individually, you have to order in packs of ten,’ you could simply say, ‘This product is available in packs of ten.’ Or, instead of saying, ‘No, you have to provide your details in writing. It is our policy,’ you could say, ‘Providing your details in writing will help us process your order faster.’ By showing them the benefit of your policy, it is easier to get people to comply, without refusing them.

6. Don’t Say ‘Yes’ So That You Can Bail Out Later
Many entrepreneurs say ‘yes’, knowing all along that it is impossible to follow through on the commitment. They make false promises to escape the discomfort of saying ‘no’ and bail out at the last minute, citing vague, unavoidable reasons. People are not stupid and can see through you. This also creates bitterness and a sense of being let down. It is better to rip the band-aid in one go and refuse the request than to bail out last minute.

7.  Manage Your Aggression
When customers are unreasonable, it is tempting to raise your voice or be sarcastic. Unfortunately, this approach may get the job done in the short term but it damages relationships. Instead of trying to bully your customer, realise that you need to respect their rights and boundaries and approach the situation with a positive attitude. You can show confidence but with kindness.

If you keep these simple tips in mind, saying ‘no’ to customers will become that much easier. Remember, it is better to say ‘no’ and salvage the relationship for the long term than say a reckless ‘yes’ and lose the customer forever.

Mukti Shah is a Clinical Psychologist, Corporate Consultant and an accredited Entrepreneurial Motivation Trainer.

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