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.

Marketing Upsides in an Economic Downturn

How small business marketing can benefit from this economy

Being naturally optimistic, I always try to turn bad situations into new opportunities. Our still-faltering economy may be dragging down business, but there are ways for small businesses to take advantage of the economic downturn. Here are a few:

  • Landlords may be willing to make deal and offer short-term leases. The Wall Street Journal reports that a new trend has started in retailing: the pop-up store. These stores operate with a short-term test lease to determine their feasibility. Creating low-risk leases enables more entrepreneurs the opportunity to start small-business retailing.
  • Start a business, and start making money. With many businesses unwilling to hire new employees in this uncertain economy, “accidental entrepreneurs” are being born. A USA Today story shows that 25% of workers laid off in the last six months are considering starting a business instead of finding a new job. Businesses still need work done, so they are increasingly turning to outside resources (that has certainly been my experience).
  • On the flip side of unemployment, if your business is looking to hire, you have great options right now. You need to maximize this opportunity. Make sure not to rush hiring decisions- conduct enough interviews to find the right person for the job who will fit with your culture.
  • If you have the cash to ramp up your advertising, you can buy more for your buck. For example, one of my clients is in an industry where pay per click (PPC) advertising has completely dried up. Now we can advertise with little competition and a much smaller budget. There may be fewer customers than before, but we are reaching almost all of them.
  • If this economy is leaving you with too much extra time, put it to good use. Take my small business marketing test to find your weak areas. When your business is booming, it’s hard to find time to plan for the future. If you work on your business strategy now, your business can come back stronger than it’s ever been.

Has your business developed any opportunities as a result of the recession? Please share!