Turning Lemons into Lemonade

Having to say no on occasion is inevitable.  Perhaps you are sold out.  Perhaps you do not carry the product or perform the service requested.  Or maybe you just cannot make it happen in the time frame requested.  No matter the reason, it is bound to happen.  Make sure you have a plan.

Abide by two rules when you can’t say yes:

  • Don’t enjoy it.  While this may seem obvious, customer facing employees sometimes forget that they must show disappointment at losing the opportunity to serve the customer.  They can sometimes come off as nonchalant or matter of fact unless they have learned this.  It is still important that the customer chooses or recommends you for a future purchase, so the inability to say yes at their first request must be met with regret; and the customer must see it.
  • Propose an alternative.  Whether you simply offer a different color or whether you have to recommend them to another company, it is important that you do not brush them off with a simple no.  “Oh, I’m so sorry I can’t help with that, but I can do this….”


One of the best interview responses I ever had was from a gentleman named Ray who had worked as a barista prior to interviewing with my company.  I asked him if he had ever had a high pressure customer service situation, how he handled it, and what the outcome was.  He described an un-caffeinated, grouchy, early morning line of customers waiting for coffee (guess which Customer Type they were?).  They could only brew so much regular coffee at a time, yet the early morning crowd tended to be the “plain cup of Joe” folks.  To add to that, each pot took about 6 ½ minutes to brew – which was like half an hour to these people.

Ray was the manager of the store, and handled the situation exceptionally well.  First, he apologized and sympathized.  Second, he had one of his co-workers cut up a pastry and provide free samples to be nice.  Third, he offered to serve the customers Americanos instead of waiting on the coffee to brew.  Genius.  He was able to provide a great solution for those who didn’t want to wait but wouldn’t want a fancy coffee alternative.  The Americano was actually an upgrade from the regular coffee – so he was even able to squeeze some additional revenue out of the situation while providing great service.

Just because you have to say no doesn’t mean that there isn’t an alternative everyone can be happy with!  Do you have a great lemons-to-lemonade story to share?  We would love to hear it!


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