Good Customer Service: How to Tell a Customer “No”

Good customer service is easy when things are going smoothly, and you can say, “Yes!” to your customers’ requests. But when you have to tell a customer, “No,” it takes more thought and effort to deliver good customer service. Recently, I got to experience amazing customer service and found it a “teachable moment” for all businesses.

For many years, I have subscribed to the Wall Street Journal‘s “Best of the Web Today” emails, but in the last few months they changed the emails to excerpts, requiring subscribers to visit a web page to read the whole digest. Upset about the change, I sent a curt email, writing:

I really don’t like how you no longer include the full article in the email. I subscribe by email because I want to read the whole thing in my email inbox.

James Taranto, the editor for Best of the Web Today, emailed me back:

I’m afraid this was a business decision. There was hardly any demand for ads in the BOTWT email, so we decided to direct readers to the website. However, you can still get the full text–but without formatting and links–if you switch your subscription to the text format. Cheers, James

Four Elements of Good Customer Service

This email response took me aback. It was perfect, even though he was effectively telling me, “No.” Here’s why:

  1. The response came from someone I respect. James Taranto, the editor, wrote this email. Someone with decision-making power thought my complaint important enough to respond to himself.
  2. The explanation was honest. I can’t argue that the Wall Street Journal needs to make a profit. Taranto respected me enough to just tell me the truth.
  3. The email was personalized. Clearly, this email was not a form letter. It was written in direct response to my complaint.
  4. Taranto presented a remedy and specified its drawbacks. To get the full text,  I can subscribe to the plain text version of the mailing. But thanks to his explanation, I won’t be surprised when there aren’t any links in it. Taranto prevented a further customer service problem by telling me the drawbacks up front.

If you incorporate these four elements into your customer service interactions, you will not only satisfy customers, but you will make them more loyal and raving fans of your products and company as well. How’s that for turning a negative into a positive? Take my example. Instead of remaining angry with the Wall Street Journal, I wrote a glowing article about their great customer service.

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