Brands are historically designed to fulfil the needs of customers and say yes to every possible wish. Yet, there are times, primarily in the Service sector, online and offline, when your brand must say no to the demanding buyer. Due to policy, legislation, business strategy, human or technological deficiencies and other environmental factors. Exactly the reason why brand owners must intelligently design the ‘Denial Experience’ – saying no to customers, yet with the clear intent of retention.
It does not take much imagination to conjure the common scenarios in this regard. The airline company refusing to board a delayed passenger or denying a ‘happy’ flyer the third can of beer or the dreaded announcement of cancellation. A restaurant not allowing entry to hungry patrons as the last order is closed or refusing an underage patron to avail of its facilities. Banks declining the credit-card application of a seemingly-worthy due to low CIBIL scores, a scenario common for every kind of loan. During the campus placement process, large companies ignoring the resumes of bright candidates due to profile mismatch. Doctors who cannot give an appointment to a deserving patient or a divorce lawyer unable to accept the assignment from a sincerely-needy. Uber and Ola unable to provide a taxi during peak hours or Zomato unable to drop your favourite pizza due to heavy rains in the restaurant area. Amazon or Flipkart running short of a desirable item or yatra.com having just sold the last ticket on the Diwali red-eye. Bargain-seekers in legacy shopping environments being handed over an absolute ‘take-it-or-leave-it’ price, be it the fresh catch of Hilsa or a brand-new dress.
Instead of creating half-hearted protocols, brands must devise the appropriate ‘Denial Experience’ in their category, training both people and processes to adhere to the same. The governing principle being that the customer being denied is extremely valuable, the brand harbouring strategic intent for retention and organic growth. Due to certain tactical circumstances, the desired transaction cannot materialise but that must not be allowed to interfere with the long-term relationship. So, not only must this unfulfilled encounter be damage-free, it could even become an opportunity for enriching the future association. There are three stages to the ‘Denial Experience’ from the customer standpoint – ‘Decision Derivation’, ‘Moment Management’ and ‘Relationship Recovery’.
‘Decision Derivation’ is the process by which the brand decides that it must say no to the customer, automated or manual. If an Indigo flight is loosely on time, the closure of check-in is an auto-pilot process, so little room for discretion by an individual. However, if the restaurant manager feels that extending five minutes for the breakfast buffet will delight the late arrive, that may become a manual input. While the executive assigning the claim limit of a Term Insurance Policy will possibly be bound by unshakeable strictures. Every business must review this aspect with fresh eyes, from the tools of technology, employee competencies and customer insight. To make it as realistic, from an operational view, as well as situational, empowering the well-trained point-of-contact personnel to have a greater say.
‘Moment Management’ is the critical point of communication, when the customer must be told that the answer is a no. This can be a letter or an e-mail (in case of appointments or bank approvals), a face-to-face conversation (like hotels or airlines), an app-based denial (like Uber or Zomato) or the cold act of terminating services (email or mobile accounts being blocked). The winning formula in each case starts with a humility in tonality, with a clear explanation of the reasons why a certain requirement cannot be fulfilled. Thankfully, they are hardly ever discretionary, which is exactly why the rule-book must be kept handy, in an appropriate format, clearly assuring the customer that the individual has no ulterior motive in denial. Important here is emotional empathy and the skill to manage customer rage, a common scenario in most cases. Also, most critically, every denial must come with an achievable alternative, once again mandated by a pre-ordained process. A denial for a 4-crore life cover should admit a 2-crore version, Indigo should quickly offer access to the next flight, the shutting restaurant can suggest others in the area that are open while an unavailable Uber can manfully suggest other taxi apps. Customer dissent can be easier managed when the denial communication culminates in an easily-reachable, solution, as opposed to a staccato bullet.
‘Relationship Recovery’ must begin with a culture of profiling such denied customers, evaluating their importance and then beginning a journey of rejuvenation. It can easily begin with communication when there is a meaningful offering or guidance, not just pretty words. Indigo, for instance, can educate latecomers on how they must arrive two hours prior to a flight, as unpredictable traffic conditions can be beyond everybody’s control. Restaurants denying tables due to over-booking or closure can provide a complimentary drink voucher and a reservation hotline to cement future custom. A bank denying a loan must immediately suggest the lower-possible amount, alternative providers or a simple guideline on what levels of enhanced income will lead to future approvals. In every genuine case, the disturbed customer must be appreciated, comforted and given a preferential access to the brand for future transactions. This will certainly lead to dissonance management on social media or WOM in the short-term and eventually add genuine emotional depth to the brand’s proposition.
In new-age service economies, designing the ‘Denial Experience’ is a strategic necessity. The potent trio of ‘Decision Derivation’, ‘Moment Management’ and ‘Relationship Recovery’ can teach every brand to say no with civilised conviction and a profitable perspective. When done sincerely, it can even become the beginning of a beautiful relationship.
(Shivaji Dasgupta is the Founder of INEXGRO Brand Advisory and can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org)
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