Customer Service

How to Say “NO” to Customers in a Positive Way: 8 First-Hand Tips

Everyone has rejected a customer at least once. But how to say "NO" to a client sounding positive? There are 8 most helpful ways to do just that (the experts' recommendations are included, too!)

Written by Olesia Melnichenko

How to Say “NO” to Customers in a Positive Way: 8 First-Hand Tips

No secret, people don’t react well to a “No”. When we hear this word, our brain releases cortisol, the hormone of stress, which leads to anger and disappointment. 

Usually, the side effect of a negative answer is long conversations, anger, misunderstanding, and further escalations. To have more context, look at two hypothetical conversations that could take place between, say, Chris and Sarah, Phoebe and Jill.

Conversation 1:

Chris the Customer: Hello! I need a favor here. I would like to extend my subscription period to a year. Can you do that?

Sarah the Support Agent: Actually, we don’t provide that. No exceptions are allowed.   

Chris the Customer: And you call yourself a customer care department? I want to speak to your manager!

Conversation 2:

Phoebe the Customer: Hello! I have a problem here. You already gave me 2 free trials in a row, but I had no time getting to the bottom of your product. I need to have another one.   

Jill the Service Agent: Good day, Phoebe! Despite that the third time is a charm, our company policy allows for only 2 free trials in a row. How about an easy alternative, though? We could schedule a product onboarding call any time you wish and show you the ropes.   

Phoebe the Customer: Too bad! But alright, let’s do that.

The first dialogue got off to a rocky start. Obviously, Chris took Sarah’s unspoken “No” not very well. It’s because Sarah had no chance to read our article yet 😌 Anyways, we can only imagine how things may end in the long run. 

Now, reread Jill’s response. What is so special about it? She knows how to say “No” to customers. 

And you will, too! In this article, we discuss this topic elaborately and break down examples. Take a good note!

When saying “NO” to customers is OK? 

I know, I know. You must be thinking: “Why on Earth should I reject a customer? I am too shy [insert your option] for this??”. At the end of the day, numerous studies confirm refusing people is quite awesome and has a positive impact on your mind. The same goes for customer support. 

Giving your “No” to customers is good and completely natural, trust me. There are several situations when you can do that with no remorse:

  • When you understand that a client’s desire is far from realistic 

Imagine you’ve just changed the whole dashboard layout or the pricing system. The chances are you will get requests such as “get everything back on the rails” or “how come your prices are so heavy??”. 

Unfortunately, you can’t fulfill those queries, no matter how you slice it. Try to explain why you can’t backpedal with all your heart and be highly convincing. For instance, if your website has a new design and a client is angry about it, say that you keep up with the times and this fresh look provides a better UX for them. 

Or if you removed some functionality and replaced it with another, more advanced one (which is totally inconvenient from the customer’s perspective), tell them you want to be the best for your customer in every sense of the word. 

  • When a customer’s wish is beyond your company policy 

Don’t be surprised when some clients take a mile when you give them an inch. Cause you know, if you try to please all, you will please none. Telling a customer “No” when they ask for an additional discount, special unique favors, or anything extraordinary is no crime. 

But here’s what you should be careful with – going against the company’s policy. You may look like a true angel in the eyes of a client, but when the top management comes to you with questions, you’d better be prepared. Some drastic measures all the way down to a cut in your salary might happen. 

Notwithstanding, I don’t say you shouldn’t make customers happy. Going an extra mile for them without rushing headlong is acceptable and even good for your customer satisfaction strategy. But still, consider these points before: does your boss approve and if you can offer the same for other clients if need be.

  • When you feel like you’ve had enough 

Do you know the source of internal energy? If yes, tell me where to get it. C’mon, you work in customer service, so your vital spirit can’t be unquenchable. That’s why, if you don’t pick your battles and learn how to say “No” to a customer, there is a risk of burning out.

If this very customer throws insults at you, comes over and over again unsatisfied, and is just being an evident jerk, you can even break up with them. Why not? You have only one health, everything else (even work) is attached. So, please, define such situations beforehand and work with comfort to stay sane.    

Before we come to the main narrative, there is one thing to highlight. When you’re bound to tell a client “No”, make sure you follow the Ask, Analyze, Act framework (AAA framework). Err on the side of caution so as not to wave your client goodbye. 

How to say “NO” to customer requests and demands: 8 bulletproof ways

We are approaching the juiciest part – how to say “No” to customers without crying yourself to sleep. Here, you’ll also find some pieces of advice from the experts and influencers in different industries. They are worth following. Off we go! 🚀

1. Be the master of grace and respect

It’s hard to show your respect when you have to decide how to tell a customer “No”. However, it should be done with grace. Malte Scholz, CEO and Co-Founder of Airfocus, has their own view on the point: 

Respect is the most important thing when rejecting a customer. If you show that you truly value and respect a potential customer, even though you have to say ‘’No’’, this will say a lot about your values. Consequently, the customer will take the rejection much better. You should use specific language and a tone of voice when rejecting customers and refrain from lengthy explanations, as these can always be easily misinterpreted. 

Totally agree! It’s better not to promise the moon and sugar-coat. Build your response respectfully, using such words and phrases as: 

  • [customer’s name], with all due respect, I think we need to take another solution… 
  • I realize what you mean, but it’s next to impossible at the moment.
  • We don’t have this option yet, but how about looking at something you could be interested in…
  • As long as you follow the instructions, it should be fine. Please, let me know if you struggle with something.
  • For now, this is everything I can do. What can we do better next time? 

Feel free to infuse them into your workflow! And yes, don’t forget to use the name. It will only smooth the waters.

2. Say again if needed

Repetitio est mater studiorum, which is “Repetition is the mother of learning” from Latin. What I am hinting at is that you can express a “No” twice, if need be. We at HelpCrunch – a one-stop customer communication platform for building customer relations – are not afraid of doing just that when the situation takes a twist.

For instance, every time we feel like a customer’s wish is far from being fulfilled, but they keep holding their ground, we simply repeat the explanation adding some “powerful” phrases, like “That’s right, but as I said earlier…” or “To give you a more in-depth view on that…” or “If my previous explanation was too vague, let me express it this way…”. In most cases, such a trick is of great help and the issue is settled faster.  

3. Disagree productively 

From my perspective, they should teach how to say “No” to a potential customer at school. For that matter, there is this interesting example.

Michael Yeomans, an Assistant Professor of Organizational Behavior at Imperial College Business School in London, has pointed out essential features of the so-called productive disagreement. This concept has the following main stages:

  • Acknowledgment. Every time you’re in a conversation with an ordinary person or a client, say ‘I understand’ or ‘I see your point’ to acknowledge that you’re listening to them. 
  • Hedging. Add such words as ‘probably’, ‘sometimes’, or ‘maybe’ to your answer rather than talking in absolutes. This will help you say a rejection with delicacy. 
  • Agreement. Affirm your client’s view by saying “I can’t but agree…”  or “I totally agree…” to show that their opinion is completely valid.
  • Use rather positive terms. So, instead of telling “You can’t gain access to this account”, choose “You can gain access to this account after an easy authentication. Let me ask you some questions…”.
  • Share personal experiences to encourage mutual respect. So, if you have no clue of how to say “no” to customers in a positive way, tell them a similar story that happened to you (or come up with one). 

4. Ask why and say why

Why beat around the bush when you can just ask a customer why they want it and explain why it’s impossible? Here is what Trysta Barwig, a travel expert and founder of This Travel Dream, has in mind on that matter:

The best way to say no to a customer is to put yourself in their shoes before responding. Try to understand why they’re asking for whatever they are asking for, and then try your best to explain your reasoning.

After working in customer service for many years, I have learned that most people want to be heard. Make sure you listen to them and understand what their needs are. A lot of people are quick to say no without even hearing the customer.

5. Avoid generic replies 

There is nothing worse than a mediocre answer to a client. As you know, every consumer wants to be unique, feel valued, and heard. So, never tar all your customers with the same brush. It gives your conversation a not-so-great vibe. 

Even if you chose the way how to tell a customer you can not help them, do that masterfully, with each and every customer in mind. The whole thing is that your reply doesn’t look robotic. 

Richard Lubicky, the founder of RealPeopleSearch, says we should use more sentences like:

  • Unfortunately, the request does not work with our policy.
  • Sorry to hear about the issue. Only the authorized person can use our services.
  • You would love to know that we have a better offer for you. 

Nicely said! I, for one, think that you should be more creative in your narrative. Here are some ordinary phrases that can be transformed into extraordinary:

  • No, we can’t do that → I have good and bad news. Which one would you like to know first?
  • No idea, I will ask my colleague → Hmm, that’s an interesting case. Let me loop my colleague in…
  • Stay in the chat, I am looking for a solution → While I am looking for the best solution to your issue, here is our newest blog article on the related issue. Spend some quality time!

6. Be transparent about your refusal

Can I be completely honest with you? Promising a customer you would transfer their wishes and demands to the development team with no intention to do so is toxic. But hey, people are no fools, they feel you’re being dishonest just like that. And this dishonesty can backfire. 

Read what David Adler, founder, and CEO of The Travel Secret says on that matter:

Honest companies are appreciated by their customers. Transparency is therefore imperative when handling customer requests. Furthermore, it is crucial from the start to say no to some questions if you know that even if you analyze a situation, the answer will still be no. Even though a no was given, you should always emphasize that you are trying to resolve the problem in the future. 

For example, “at the moment we are unable to offer phone service on the weekends, but we are working on extending our hours.”. Your customers will see that you are honest and transparent and will accept no’s much more patiently. They will also be better able to trust the company, knowing that you have been clear from the beginning and that you are willing to adapt in the future.

Can’t but agree on this one. Being transparent can also pay huge dividends. For instance, your customer success strategy will be improved, the fair share of customers will be satisfied. By the way, word-of-mouth marketing is never revoked. 

7. Say “NO” without actually saying it

This is my favorite step. It’s possible to convey a flat “No” without pronouncing the word. The experts we’ve surveyed shared their thoughts on how to say “No” to a customer sounding nice and friendly:

Sam Shepler, CEO of TestimonialHero, claims that “the most polite and empathetic way to say no to a customer is to avoid saying a flat no and employing positive language. It’s all about being helpful and encouraging to the customers. However, the most important thing here is finding the closest solution to the problem, so the customer doesn’t leave upset, empty-handed, and never wanting to return.”

We are on the same page here. Being a linguistic enthusiast myself, I have learned numerous synonyms, collocations, and phrases to diversify my vocab. Care to know some tricks given our context?

Instead of saying this… Be positive!
No, I don’t know what you are talking about. Sorry, you lost me on [the moment you don’t understand]. Could you be so kind and come again, so I can help you faster? 🙏🏻

No, we don’t provide that.
We’re on our way to provide that to our customers. Stay tuned! 🙂
No, you are not quite following. Oops! 🙀 Let me put it another way, so you get the whole picture.

By the way, if you feel like watching stuff, consider some explanatory videos from the experts in niche or psychologists. This is a great example to start with:

8. Come up with an alternative

So many men, so many minds. This client may not feel like upgrading to another tariff right now, or that man isn’t comfortable with your in-built product tour. Sometimes, you just have to offer another solution to the problem. 

I like what Nicolas Holand of Goose Smurfs has in mind hereupon:

You can still say no without disappointing a person. Instead of just leaving them hanging, you can give them another resolution or alternative to make it work. 

Here’s an example: “I truly understand your concern because I have been in the same situation before, although your preferred way is not possible as of now, we can still provide you an alternative to cater to your concern and make your current situation better.”

Wrap it up 

So, how to say ‘No’ to customers? I do hope that is not already a question to you after this material. 

First, gather the context and all the valuable info about a client’s query. Then, think of what you’re going to say, sounding as polite as possible. After that, come up with your negative but positive answer. 
To practice your friendly customer communication, a sound platform is a must. Just sign up for a 2-week free trial with HelpCrunch. Use its all-round features to bring your marketing, support, and sales to a higher level.

Olesia Melnichenko
Olesia was born in Donetsk, Ukraine. She's been a proud HelpCrunch content writer for three years. Her experience encompasses positions like an SEO copywriter, a marketing specialist, and a customer support assistant to a flight booking platform. Olesia's portfolio includes dozens of articles on customer service, marketing, and sales both for the HelpCrunch blog and other niche-related online resources. Now, she is a self-learning Spanish student who never misses out on the opportunity to replenish her vocab in three languages (English, German, and Spanish).
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