Saying “No” Can Be Good Customer Service

Olivia Vidotto
Planner III
Planning & Zoning
Southern Regional Representative
Prince Frederick, MD

We hear the phrase “good customer service” in the private sector, government, business ads, articles and many other places.  Especially after the recession, everyone had to put more effort into keeping a client or work harder to gain a new client. The approach and results had to change. If you are providing the same product or service as others, what can set you apart?

In the development community, we saw changes with construction firms, engineering companies, architects, contractors and even with the government agencies that issued plan approvals, permits and inspections for development.  As businesses condensed jobs and let people go and government agencies laid off or furloughed employees, everyone was reinventing how they did business, revamping processes and evaluating timeframes for reviews and approvals. Providing good customer service became the mantra.

So how far do you go to keep a client/customer happy?  Telling someone what he or she wants to hear is not providing good customer service. Of course, we want to keep their business or help them with their project and permits, but do not make promises that you cannot keep.  Do not say yes to a question when the answer should be no.  For example, if you are asked if a plan can be completed in two weeks, do not say yes if you know that it will really take three weeks.  You sacrifice your own integrity and ultimately how a company or department is perceived overall. What have you gained? In addition, where is the consistency and fairness for your other clients/customers? When two weeks have gone by and they are still waiting, they will be upset and their opinion of you clouded because you did not keep your word. Then when you come back and say the “no” you should have said originally, and try to explain why, the person is past the point of understanding.

You can say “no” from the start but in a positive way. Outline why the answer is no and what steps you will take to help your client/customer. Building trust and being honest will keep them happier longer versus telling them what they want to hear to be happy in the moment.  So remember, sometimes, saying “No” really is the best customer service.