One of the worst things to say to customers is “no.” Instead of responding that you don’t have a product in stock or provide a service, always provide some other option, says Rick Voigt, president of Today’s Business Products.

“If it’s something you don’t sell, suggest an equivalent product. Mention that you have this alternate item, and ask if that would work for the customer,” Voigt says. “The answer is never no, even when it’s really no. There’s always an option you can present.”

Smart Business spoke with Voigt about customer service mistakes, and how to ensure they don’t occur at your business.

Can you provide another example of how to turn a “no” into a “yes?”

Every week we get a call from someone who needs a product today, and the deliveries already went out. Depending on the location, it can be taken to the customer; you can ensure it’s waiting for them if they send someone over; or, if it’s an item not in stock, check with another facility and have it sent out from there.

Even when the answer is technically no, there are options to make it yes. Maybe they can’t get a product exactly when they want it, but at least the customer is presented with alternatives.

It’s also important to empower your employees to make decisions, within reason.

What are some other big customer service mistakes?

In order to have good customer service, it’s essential to answer your phones. People don’t want to call, get a voicemail tree and have to push buttons.

Another big mistake is not returning phone calls and emails. Never leave at the end of the day without returning an email or phone call. Even if you don’t have the answer to the question, tell the customer that you’re still doing research. If you told a customer that you’re going to get back to them by the end of the day, show the respect to contact them even if you don’t have the answer yet — ‘I don’t have the solution for you. I didn’t want to leave you hanging while I’m waiting for the owner to get back,’ etc.

When you get back to them, let them know what options are available. If a manufacturer is closed, tell the customer that the manufacturer is closed and you can get an answer in the morning and get back to them.

Always be on the offense, which never puts the customer on the defense. Be proactive rather than reactive. We have a policy that if something is backordered, we call or send an email and give the customer options so we can fulfill their order. A customer wants to know something has been backordered, in case it’s something that is needed right away.

If a customer has warranty issues, don’t just tell them to call an 800 number. Everyone knows how frustrating it can be to call those numbers. Contact the manufacturer and have a conference call with the customer. Make sure that the customer is taken care of by the manufacturer.

Is there always a solution to make the customer happy?

There will always be people who you can’t reason with, but most people are reasonable. The important thing is that you treat people the way you want to be treated — with respect.

When I bought my first car, I walked into an Oldsmobile dealership in shorts and a T-shirt. The salespeople snubbed their noses and pointed at one guy to take care of me. I bought a car from him, my brother bought a car from him that same day, and I bought two more cars from him. Every time I walk into the dealership he smiles because he received business no one else wanted.

The old adage is that an unhappy customer will tell 10 people, while a happy customer will tell two. It’s all about the experience they receive and putting a smile on the customer’s face.

Rick Voigt is president at Today’s Business Products. Reach him at (216) 267-5000 or rvoigt@todaysbp.com.

Insights Customer Service is brought to you by Today’s Business Products

Published in Cleveland