The Art Of Saying No And Keeping A Client Happy

Peter House explains how to learn how to say “No” to a client which could mean better customer service.


Finding clients is a challenge all by itself so when we are fortunate enough to have some in our corner it is a natural reaction for us to go above and beyond the call of duty to keep them happy. While this is admirable from a customer service point of view it is not always feasible to say yes to every request. Here is how I have learned to overcome my fear of saying “no” to a client.

It has always been hard for me to say no to people, not just in business, but in my personal life as well. In my younger years I took some pride in going out of my way to help those around me. I would gladly give up my time and plans to help another human being out and it rarely mattered what the request was. Perhaps it was my youthful stupor, the fact that I had too much time on my hands, or maybe because I would have preferred to do just about anything other than studying for my classes.

As I transitioned into the working world this part of my personality followed along and became quite detrimental to my success. I have always been a really big believer in good customer service and it was hard for me to come to terms with the idea that I might have to say no to someone and leave them without help. Saying no to a person was perceived by me as a failure to deliver good customer service.

As a result I made it a policy to say “yes” just about EVERY time, but instead of being rewarded for it, it seemed as though I was being punished. The more my clients heard “yes”, the more they demanded, and the more chaotic my life became. It was quickly apparent that I was being perceived by clients as a pushover and they were there to take advantage. Who can blame them really? I had devalued myself due to my own fears.

So what are the fears that drove me to be a pushover?Fear of losing a client
Fear of a bad reputation
Fear of hurting feelings

I wanted my clients to like me. I wanted their referrals. I wanted them to believe that I could do anything. Soon I ran into a problem that I could not have foreseen.

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Meet Bruce Gilden. He’s one of our favorite Magnum photographers, and in case you’re clueless, he won a Guggenheim Fellowship this past year and is known to be one of the badassest badasses in the business. When Vice asked him to film a new show, he agreed on the terms that it wouldn’t suck and, if it did, we’d let him sock us in the face.



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