3 Simple Alternatives To Saying No

SayNoI recently ordered some of my favorite Clif brand energy gels from one of my favorite running supply websites.  They are always extremely quick at delivering my shoe orders so I figured I might as well order my fuel and other accessories from them.   Price being the same, I actually gave them the nod over Amazon—a company I have a major crush on.

The Problem

After waiting like a month for my gels to show up, I checked online and saw that they were still backordered.  I contacted the company via chat support and the friendly representative had no idea when the gels would be in stock and on my doorstep.  She did have an explanation as to why accessories take so much longer than shoes, which sounded suspiciously like an excuse.

The No

My response to this was that I needed my gels a month ago and I asked her to go ahead and cancel my order.  The representative provided me with amazing service and canceled my order, ensuring that I wasn’t charged a dime.  While the representative was friendly and helpful, they failed to address the real problem and instead allowed me to cancel.  There were five negative results from this experience.

  1. They lost a customer.
  2. They did nothing to try to retain me as a customer.
  3. The representative probably felt like they fulfilled their responsibility.
  4. The company lists items on their site that they can’t ship in a timely manner.
  5. Management may not know they have a big order fulfillment problem.

The Alternatives

While there are certainly times where we need to say no to our customers, it should be done as the very last resort.  In this situation, here are a few alternatives to simply saying no, offering an excuse, and sending them on their way.

Offer Alternatives

Never, ever assume that customers are going to be inflexible.  If you’ve built an emotional connection with your customer and offered a sincere apology, offer them a few alternatives.  Had the agent offered me a different flavor of energy gel that they had in stock, I very well might have taken her up on that offer.  Expedited shipping would have been appreciated but not mandatory.

Get A Second Opinion

The old adage, “1 to say yes, 2 to say no” applies here and it should apply to cases where someone is canceling because of a problem.  If nothing else, asking a manager why my order was delayed might both inform the manager of a persistent problem and perhaps educate the agent on the solution.  I wasn’t contacting them to cancel my order.  I wanted a status update but it became clear that my only option was to cancel.

Order On Behalf Of The Customer

In the book, Raving Fans, there’s a wonderful example of a store manager who doesn’t have an item in stock.  Rather than turning the customer away, he goes to another store, purchases the item, and then sells it to the customer at the store’s normal price.  What if the retailer had gone to Amazon and ordered the energy gels for me?  An action like that says “We care so much about keeping your business, that we are going to buy the item for you from our competition!”  Had they done that, you’d be reading an entirely different post.

I am a huge fan of this retailer and want them to succeed.  So much so that I am going to share this story with their management and see if they take action.  In the meantime, what are some additional alternatives to saying no to your customers?  Are you busy making excuses or are you desperately trying to find ways to do business with people?


Share this post:


  • Great example of a NO that should be a YES. I am not sure why any company would want a customer to go away. Only as a last resort should that customer service rep let you walk. Offering alternatives to products, providing a discount or as you suggest Jeremy purchasing an reselling the product from competition are all solid ways that could have kept you as a customer. I give the company that you dealt with a B- and frankly that would not be close to making you a raving fan. Great post Jeremy. xo

  • Sometimes you have to say no. You can be out of stock, the request can be illegal (yikes), or you just can’t do it. That said, here are three great ways to deal with having to say no.

  • Pingback: Ask The Customer Service Talking Head | Communicate Better Blog

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *