Entrepreneur magazine, May 1998

When you were a child, the word made you miserable. Now that you're an adult, you know that "no" can sometimes be the most appropriate response to a request. But how do you tell a valued customer that you can't--or won't--do what they want?

The first step is to recognize that saying no isn't always bad, says Barry J. Babin, associate professor of consumer research in the marketing department at the University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg.

"Focus on the strength of the relationship, not on this one sale at this one point in time. You can't do what's best for your customers by always saying yes."

When you must say no, tell your customer why and then offer alternatives. If, for example, you can't meet a requested deadline, be honest about your capabilities, offer the customer a deadline you can meet and, if that's not acceptable, provide a referral to another source.

Babin says it's critical for your employees to understand this concept. His advice: Empower them with training and authority. Says Babin, "Employees have to know not only when to say no but how to do it in a way that preserves long-term customer relationships."

Contact Sources

The Principal Financial Group, 711 High St., Des Moines, IA 50392-0220, (515) 247-6162

Jacquelyn Lynn is a business writer in Winter Park, Florida.