Saying “No” Nicely

Last week my car was in desperate need of an oil change.  

It was just one of those things that kept escaping my to-do list no matter what else I tried to rearrange!

Finally I thought I could squeeze it in between some other errands before the shop closed.  I knew I’d be cutting it close, but that little voice in my head talked me into it. “Yes, Misty, OF COURSE you can make it in time!”

So imagine this scene: I drive into the quick lube oil change place and the clock literally ticks to 5:59pm.  I hear the dings alerting them that I’ve pulled in and just as quickly, I see the garage door coming down RIGHT in front of my car.

The guy who works there walks around and I know right away he’s going to tell me they’re closed (from where I sit I can see the “closes at 6:00pm” sign).  I was just hoping beyond hope that maaaaaaybe they would fit me in anyway.

So the guy approaches my car and says, “Sorry, we’re closing now and we’ll be open again at eight o’clock tomorrow.”

And that was it.  

He walked back inside the building.

I totally felt like I got the cold shoulder!  And instantly I made up my mind that I wouldn’t be coming back in the morning.  After all, did they really want my business?  I understood that I had squeaked in just before closing time, but as a potential customer, there was no incentive for me to come back.  No smile, no reasoning, no relationship-building.

Nothing.

Even if the guy’s tone of voice and demeanor had been different, I might have felt better about coming back.  Or maybe if he had softened the blow by saying, “You know what, we’ve got to close on time so my guys can get home to their families, but if you come back first thing in the morning I’ll throw in 20% off since we weren’t able to help you today.”

So of course as I’m driving away, I’m thinking about this from a dance studio business perspective.  Are there places where we are dropping the proverbial garage door right in front of our customers faces?  

For example, a real problem we face inside our studios is when a class is full.  Our first reaction to the prospective customer might be to say, “I’m sorry, but enrollment is closed.”  Which, while true, bluntly ends the conversation.  There’s no alternate path offered.  There’s no real service being given.  There’s no bridge to developing a relationship when all we give is a black-and-white no.

So in this situation, where can we offer an on-ramp?  How can we turn someone down but also redirect them?  Even if a prospective customer can’t have what they’re asking for in that moment, we can offer them a reason to stick with us, try something else, or stay in touch.  

What if we said, “Sorry, enrollment in that class is closed, but can I get you into this class instead?” or “I can add you to a waitlist for that class, and in the meantime, would you like to join our Discover Dance camp?” or “I understand you really wanted that class.  Would you like to be the first one notified when our mini-mester opens?”

There’s a new understanding to the interaction in these ways; a quality of respect and an element of service.

I think that as business people, we can choose to give folks a road to follow even if we can’t accommodate them perfectly.  Instead of dropping a hard “no,” we can learn to soften our language and expressions.  Instead of creating resistance for people to do business with us, we can demonstrate receptiveness.  And we can teach our staff how to do a great job at it too.

So give it a shot: I challenge you to think about what you can do to say “no” nicely.  See where you can construct paths that are so well-lit, people always know how to get back.  Give them the reasons and the relationships to do business with you AND tell their friends.

Love, Misty

P.S. It wasn’t but a week later when I DID finally get an oil change … and the place I took it to also gave me a free car wash.  Now that’s service!