My eyes widened – it was too good to be true.
The event in the calendar read:
Mastering the Art of Nojitsu: How to Say “No” in a Customer Friendly Way.
What were the odds?
The last time I had a 1:1 with the boss, this was one of the things he wanted to know more about. On a few too many occasions, our customer success resources had been stretched thinner than need be. The fix? A simple “no”.
Only problem is that simple things aren’t always easy to do.
The opportunity to learn how to say no had fallen right into my lap, courtesy of soft skill training from the organisation Growth Molecules.
The trainer was Shannon, a fellow CSM turned teacher who coupled her own experience in the trenches with industry standard know-how.
For 55 minutes, my team and I listened and learned about how to turn the dreaded two-letter word into an opportunity to deepen the relationship with the customer.
Rather than regurgitate everything, I thought I’d share the finer points and my thoughts around them, starting with…
Why is Saying ‘No’ So Hard?
Forget working as a CSM, saying ‘no’ in general can be difficult. How often have we accepted additional work when our ‘to-do’ pile was already too high? How often have we said that we like something or agree to play along just because we don’t want to hurt the feelings of the ones we care about?
One of the key take aways was that saying ‘no’ went beyond social conditioning, it was evolutional baggage from caveman days when we had to blend in for survival. The part of the brain that meant we could live an extra day is likely responsible for this. So we’re not just fighting social norms, we’re fighting physiology and evolution itself.
It’s All About Expectation Setting
There was a time in a past company I picked up the phone to a client that sounded flustered.
“Johnson, you have to come up.”
“What for? What’s up?”
“The app isn’t working and we need it to be working by end of the week.”
I was silent for several moments. ‘Up’ here meant Sydney, which was 1,000 kms away, a 1.5 hour flight. There was no way I was flying up on such short notice.
“OK well could you tell me what’s wrong with it first?”
We spent the next 10 minutes going over what had happened. By the end of the call, the customer had my assurance the issue would be resolved before week’s end and I saved an unnecessary interstate flight.
The first step for expectation setting is understanding why the ask matters to the client.
- Why was he so flustered?
- What was so important about having the app ready by the end of the week?
- What did “ready” actually mean?
- What would happen if it wasn’t “ready”?
These questions formed the scaffolding to let me de-escalate the situation and gracefully say ‘no’ without making it seem like I didn’t care about the customer’s problem. I did, but I had to understand where he was coming from. Saying ‘yes’ in this case would have caused more problems for me and not have resulted in the best result for the customer.
When to Say ‘No’
As a Customer Success Manager, we get plenty of requests:
- Can you put this feature in for me?
- Can you help me fix this bug right now?
- Can you deliver the training for us in person?
- Could you just do it for me?
- Can I do it later?
Whether we know it or not, we probably say ‘no’ more often than we think we do. We probably just don’t flat-out say ‘no’ that much. The most common instance of this happening is when a SaaS product literally doesn’t do something.
Even then, there is a technique I like using, which is ‘no, but…’
Using the idea of channeling the energy from the question, I make an assumption about what the customer actually wants and give a suggestion and turn it back towards the customer. Using the above examples, some ‘no, but’s…’ might be:
- Can you put this feature in for me? –> Hmmm, have you tried that workaround I spoke to you last time about?
- Can you help me fix this bug right now? –> Have you sent me steps on how I might be able to duplicate it first?
- Can you deliver the training for us in person? –> Has your team looked over the virtual training record I sent last week yet?
- Could you just do it for me? –> It should only take you 10 minutes, how much time are you spending on it?
- Can I do it later? –> It depends, do you have time later this week? We can do it together then.
‘No’ is Where the Conversation Really Starts
This last point wasn’t really covered in the training, but is something I read in a book on negotiation once. While it might not seem like negotiation is part of the job, anytime we try and get something our way, we’re negotiating.
The one thing that’s stuck with me from the book is that when one party says ‘no’, that’s when the negotiation truly begins. If there are ‘maybe’s’, or ‘we’re not sure’s’, then the other party isn’t committed to the conversation. Once there’s a ‘no’, that’s when both parties have a vested interest and are seeking a compromise.
Being the first one to say ‘no’ then puts you in a position of power as you’re the one trying to drive the conversation – and the relationship – forward to the mutual benefit of both you and the other party.
Overall it was a great session with Shannon and Growth Molecules. Not only did I get validation that what I was doing was working, I picked up a few more nuggets as well. Hopefully you’re better informed after reading this piece too!