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If you’ve ever worked in food service or retail, you’ve probably been told “the customer is always right” at some point. To provide excellent customer service, you had to make the customers leave happy even if it meant catering to bizarre behaviors and requests. Although this advice is a great foundation for a customer service mindset, does it really transition into the modern customer experience? The quick answer is no, but most customers don’t want to hear “no” from their service providers.

How do you deliver excellent customer service, guiding the customer down the most successful path, when that path might take them in a different direction than their initial request? Let’s explore three ways to “say no” while still providing an exceptional customer experience and creating lasting customer relationships.

3 Keys to Exceptional Customer Service

Embrace the New

Sometimes a customer wants to spend money on a new technology, but they fall into the trap of wanting the new technology to work like their old technology. People like what they know. Sometimes it is possible to force the new technology to behave like the old technology. This makes the customer happy for the short term, but is it really the best way forward and the best use of their new investment? Instead of trying to make the customer happy in the moment, show the customer that you understand their current environment and how the new technology can transform their process and experience. Demonstrate to them how investing their time in learning and implementing the new ways of the new technology will exponentially improve the monetary investment they’ve made in the technology. The functional team implementing and supporting this new shiny object may not have been a part of the demos and information sharing that convinced the customer to implement the new technology. If you can get the customer’s functional team excited about the implementation, they will become a champion for it.

Own the Relationship

Each contact with the customer gives you the opportunity to demonstrate your alliance and support and move toward a 'trusted partner' relationship. Once you reach the point of trusted partner, you will be better able to help them navigate the pitfalls in the technology landscape, enabling them to make more informed decisions and advance the overall customer relationship.

The “No, but” Approach

We’ve all had a situation where a customer is asking for X but only Y is a viable choice. This customer moves quickly from asking to demanding X, yet Y is still the only option. How you handle these interactions sets the tone for the engagement. First, don’t delay the inevitable. It’s hard to deliver bad news but doing it sooner than later is always the best option. Try the “No, but” approach. No, Mr. Customer, we cannot transform your soufflé into a filet but we can provide you best-in-class recipes to make that soufflé as delicious and presentable as possible. Most customers will appreciate the honesty and your due diligence in providing the best options. It shows you really want to help even when their original request is just not feasible.

It’s never easy to say no, especially when you are passionate about providing an exceptional customer experience. If you employ active listening with honesty, integrity and creative problem solving, you can create a positive experience for the entire engagement. The No allows you the opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of your customer’s vision, and this will translate to a great relationship.