My mother used to say, “Never say never.” But I put it there in the headline anyway just to capture your attention. It would be nice if you never had to say “No” to a customer; however, that’s not realistic. While it shouldn’t happen often, there are times you have to say “No.”

Before getting into how to avoid saying “No,” let’s explore some instances when you might have to say it:

  • What the customer is asking for is illegal or immoral. There’s no place in business for illegal or immoral.
  • What the customer is asking for will cost the company money (although sometimes that’s okay in certain situations). While nobody wants to lose money, sometimes the bigger picture warrants the cost. This is something to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.
  • When the customer is asking for something that the company can’t provide. Sometimes, you just can’t do what the customer is asking you to do. I’m a customer service keynote speaker. One day a client asked me to do a leadership speech. That’s not my expertise. They begged me to do it. I had to say, “No.”

When any of the above situations present themselves, you may say “No,” but it can be done in such a way that the customer is still happy.

Turning ‘No’ Into ‘Yes’

Cameron Mitchell is the CEO and founder of Cameron Mitchell Restaurants, a chain of about 60 award-winning restaurants known for great food and amazing customer service. Mitchell’s philosophy regarding the word “No” is to start with the word “Yes.” He even wrote a book titled “Yes is the Answer! What is the Question?”

Can you say “Yes” to every request? Of course not! But to Mitchell, saying “Yes” is more philosophical and part of his company’s culture. While there are reasons to say “No,” proper training will give employees the power to find ways to avoid it.

Christine Trippi, a guest experience expert in the hospitality industry, wrote a similar book with a similar title, “Yes Is the Answer.” She believes there is a way to say “Yes” to virtually every request. If you dig a little deeper into Trippi’s philosophy, it’s not unlike Mitchell’s. It’s more about not saying “No” than actually saying “Yes” to every request and demand. She offers alternatives.

For example, when she managed a hotel, they didn’t provide ground transportation to or from the airport. Guests would call and ask if they had an airport shuttle. Rather than say, “No,” which was accurate, she would say, “There are three ways you can get from the airport to our hotel. You can take a taxi, get an Uber or Lyft or we can arrange for a private car and have the cost added to your final bill when you check out.” All she did was offer alternatives. What she didn’t do was say “No.”

Related Article: The Most Important Components of the Customer Experience

Learning Opportunities

Empowering Employees to Say ‘Yes’

There is a concept called One to Say Yes and Two to Say No. This is a way to empower employees to say “Yes” as often as possible to the customer. Employees are trained on when they can say “Yes” or “No” in multiple situations. In circumstances where employees don’t know how to say “Yes,” or don’t know what alternatives to offer, they seek out a manager who can help them find a way to take care of the customer. If that’s not possible, then they will say, “No.”

Each time the employee finds a new way to say “Yes,” they share the example with their manager, who in turn will share it with the entire team. A new way to say “Yes” is a great training opportunity. At the same time, when “No” is an appropriate answer, that is also a teaching opportunity.

By the way, if the employee seeks out a manager for help and the answer turns out to be a “Yes” for the customer, that’s the last time the employee has to ask a manager for help or permission to say “Yes.”

While you can’t say “Yes” to every request, it is the thought process of trying to avoid the word “No” that becomes an important part of the culture. It is the difference between being customer-focused and operations-focused.

Create a short workshop for employees with scenarios that simulate tough decisions. Brainstorm how to deal with them and when to ask questions or enlist a manager’s help. Find ways to say “Yes” or discuss the alternatives you might offer your customers.

Never saying “No” is not reality, but it’s a nice goal.