How Do You Say “No” and Make Customers Feel Good About It?

Some of you know that a second, updated edition of my book, Unleashing Excellence: the Complete Guide to Ultimate Customer Service, coauthored with Teri Yanovitch, is scheduled for release this fall. Part of the publishing process includes getting reader endorsements, which appear on the book jacket.

I've sent the manuscript to several "celebrity" business authors; those who have written business books that have appeared on the best-seller lists. While celebrity endorsements don't guarantee sales, they certainly don't hurt. My mindset in sending the manuscript to well known authors was, "The worst they can do is say no."

One of the authors I contacted, via email, was Jim Collins, author of Good to Great, one of the all-time best (and best-selling) business books. (Actually, the email was sent to Jim's business manager - getting Jim's direct email address is understandably difficult). Not really expecting to hear anything, a few days later a card from Jim's office appeared in my mailbox.

Fully expecting a form letter-style rejection, I was surprised to find a personal note from Jim. Now, it was a rejection, but it was done with style.

He explained in his note that whenever he does a book endorsement, he reads the manuscript from cover-to-cover so he can feel confident in recommending the book. He wrote of how he is currently buried in a major research project and his reading is piling up, making it unlikely he would be able to read the manuscript of Unleashing Excellence. Wishing me the best, he signed off.

I don't think I've ever felt so good about a rejection. Jim's "no" was delivered personally, with sincerity, and with grace. It was also definite - no ambiguity.

I thought about my approach to saying no. In business, sometimes we have to say no. Certain requests cannot be accommodated for whatever reason. But there is a way to say no that tears down a relationship, and a way to say no that can potentially build a relationship.

I'd love to hear from you about situations in which you received a "no" from a business, but felt positive about the interaction. Or situations in which you feel you've successfully delivered a "no," resulting in a strengthened customer relationship. Then, after reviewing any examples you send, perhaps we come up with an approach based on real-life situations.

Please comment!