Saying No To A Client (How, Why, When)

February 13, 2017

When you work in the service industry, where the emphasis is on customer service, it’s understandable you want to say yes. Yes, to pretty much everything. To show you have “can-do” attitude. That you’re happy to help. It’s what we do, right?

Sometimes though, it’s not in the client’s best interest for you to be a “yes man”. Sometimes, no is the right answer. Here are some ways you can say no in a positive way, so your client is assured of a better outcome.

Great customer service sometimes starts with a ‘no’

Let’s look at the cornerstones of customer intimacy:

  • Solid communication (includes listening!)
  • Willingness to problem solve
  • Putting a plan in action to achieve the best possible outcome

Your clients need to communicate with you in a clear and efficient manner. They want to be heard and understood. They want to know that as a business you are listening to them, but they also want you to solve a problem or fix whatever request they need you too. And although they may already have a solution to a problem, they will always be open and eager to hear your take on the matter. Above all, once you have come up with a solution that works for them, they want you to put that plan into action!

Notice how saying yes is not part of the equation? If you simply say yes to everything you are putting at risk the last step, which is to put your plans into action, and if you can’t come through on all your promises then by default you have delivered bad customer service. Thus, saying no is NOT bad customer service.

Good customer service relies on solving problems, even if the solution is not what your client has offered.

But don’t say no, say …

The best method we have found for easing a client into a “no” scenario is by offering them a counter offer to their demands.


A client asks you to do a PowerPoint presentation today and you have a full day already. Their presentation is on Friday (it’s Tuesday!).
You reply to the client, “Rather than rush to get you the presentation back today, I’d love an extra day (delivering to you late Wednesday) so I can get our graphic designer to spend 90-minutes working on a layout that will wow your audience. Then I can pop the copy into the new layout and get our QC person to proof before we get this back to you. That way you get a new template to use for future presentations, this presentation will blow your audience away (rather than a rush job if I turn it around too quickly), and we have time to ensure the presentation is 100% proofed and ready to go. This still gives you Thursday to practice and let us know if you have any last minute tweaks.”

A client asks you to send an offer to an email list they’ve purchased.
You reply to the client, “I’m worried that sending an email to a list that hasn’t opted in to receive emails from you would be detrimental to your brand. It’s also illegal under anti-spamming legislation. Instead of sending out an email, how about we promote your offer using a landing page to a look-a-like audience (based on this list you’ve purchased) in a Facebook campaign? That way we can capture their names and email addresses legitimately and follow up with an automated email sequence to take these leads through your sales funnel. Outcome for you is a qualified list of prospects, a paid campaign sequence we can repeat in the future, and we’ve promoted and increased the reach of your brand message. How does that sound?”

Outcome when you say no the right way

By offering alternatives we:

  • Deliver a better outcome for our clients
  • Manage our own workloads

It’s not easy! It’s a matter of getting into the habit when you’re asked something by a client of taking a minute to think about the request.

When you’re working in that constant headspace of ‘can do’, sometimes it’s about taking yourself away and moving to “can do better“.

Your clients don’t want a “yes man”, they want to achieve a goal; whether that’s more prospects or a presentation with wow factor. It’s your job to give them the best possible outcome based on your experience.

Happy you. Happy client.

Comment below to share your own examples of how to say no, positively.

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