How do you say no to clients without making them angry or frustrated? Finding clients is a difficult feat and that’s before even winning them. Therefore, it’s no wonder that the natural reaction for many lawyers, accountants, and consultants is to go above and beyond to make sure that they keep them. While this may be an admirable quality, especially when it comes to customer service and deliverables, it is not a sustainable way to work. Here is how to say no to clients so that you don’t get bogged down with every request.
Start with empathy
When thinking about how to say no to clients, think about how you would want to be told the same news if you were in their shoes. You would want them to be empathetic, right? You have a connection with your clients, they trust you and share a mutual understanding of how you both like to work.
For this reason, show them that you care about them and that you will do your best to help them even though you are refusing their request. Do this by beginning with empathy. By simply using language such as “I would feel the same in your situation, let’s see what we can do…” or “I completely understand that this is important for your business and its development is our highest priority…” you can really show them that you value their business even though you can’t fulfil this specific request.
Explain and be honest
Everyone is far more understanding and forgiving when they know the “why” behind a certain action, so be honest and explain your reasoning for saying no to your client. For example, if what they are asking you to do is not within your contract, explain to them what is and isn’t included. If you can’t take on extra work because it will affect the quality of your service, then tell them. Not only will they appreciate your honesty, but being upfront will set the precedent for your relationship moving forward – one where they will not take you for granted.
Use positive language
Positive language is an incredibly powerful way of saying “no” without ever saying it. In fact, it can also sometimes sound like a “yes,” especially when you leave the door open for future communication on the subject. If a client is asking you to do something for them and you either don’t want to or don’t have the capacity, then make sure that you are communicating the refusal in a positive way. For example, there’s a big difference between saying “no, I can’t do that for you” and “I currently don’t have the capacity to do that for you myself but I may know someone who can help with that if you are interested?”
Offer alternatives/find the closest solution
When thinking about how to say no to clients, you want to think about how to keep them happy when doing so. How can you do that? By using this opportunity to generate goodwill by pointing them toward a workaround. When you can’t give them what they are looking for, think about what the closest alternative is. Would delegating the work be possible? Would helping them with another issue soften the blow? Even if the solution doesn’t completely work for them, they will still appreciate your effort and will remain loyal to you for it.
Make the client feel heard
Saying no to clients can result in negative feelings and loss of clients, so always make sure you are polite and caring. The best way to do this is to show your client that they are being listened to. By holding off on an immediate refusal, asking them to clarify what they need and why, and trying to help them solve their issue in other ways, you can really make a client feel valued. This shows that you have taken the time to listen, you’ve put some thought into their situation and you’ve tried your best to fulfil their request even if the end result is not what they wanted.
The impression you make matters most
It’s not all about saying yes or no when it comes to keeping clients, it’s the impression you make that matters the most. If you are honest, empathetic and helpful when it comes to saying no to a client, all this will do is strengthen your relationships and paint you and your firm in a positive light.
We have a great course in our subscriber-only site Progress to Partner called “How to give negative feedback to people who matter, without it being a career-limiting move.”. It’s a great course that will give you the confidence and tools to give negative, constructive or developmental feedback to clients, partners, team members and people working on your jobs.