How Much is "NO" Costing You?Yesterday, my husband and I learned that our friends and neighbors, Tim and Sally, had received some tragic news: During a routine exam, a tumor was discovered, and Sally was in need of emergency surgery. Like so many of us, when we heard that our friends and loved ones were going through difficult times, we wanted to help. We immediately volunteered to bring over some dinners and provide transportation, as they were overwhelmed with their children and other relatives flying home to be with them at this time.

As this all happened so fast, our first food delivery was scheduled for the very next night. With no time to cook or prepare a meal, both my husband and I decided to make some calls to find out where we could order some great, healthy food to pick up and deliver the very next afternoon.  The first place I called was a little breakfast and lunch spot I knew had terrific food. While they were not open for dinner, they did prepare daily dinner take-outs, dinner casseroles, and catering. In speaking with me, they suggested I do catered dinners, since I needed to feed about ten people. Happy with the suggestion and thrilled with the menu, I placed the order.

Later that evening, we called to see how our neighbors were doing. Relieved that their spirits were high and their children were with them, we shared that we would see them the next night with dinner and some snacks. As the call was ending, Tim thanked us and told us not to bring too much, as their appetites were low and people had been bringing food ever since they had heard the news.

The next morning, we called to explain the situation to the caterer and reduce our order from ten to six. The nice and friendly woman who answered the phone listened and said she understood, but that unfortunately, they “require” a minimum of ten for catering and could not fill our order. Disappointed and a little confused as to why a business would turn down a paying customer without even suggesting alternatives (suggesting I go with a dinner casserole or get six of their daily dinner take-outs), I thanked her for the time and started to make some other calls.

My next call was to a healthy grocery store in town. You know, the kind of place that sells all kinds of healthy and organic products, and always has this amazing deli section where you can buy wonderfully prepared salads, vegetables, potato and rice dishes, as well as pre-cooked fish and meats. The type of place you run into and grab enough great food to put on an amazing dinner party at the last minute. (Yes, I have been known to do that on more than one occasion.)

Again, a very friendly woman on the phone shared that she would love to help me, but that they “require” twenty-four hours’ notice. One more time, I thanked her and hung up the phone a little confused. You need twenty-four hours to put six pieces of chicken in a to-go box and some rice and vegetables into a container? Remember, this is food they already have laid out in a display case — food that if I came in and ordered at the counter, they would quickly put together with no problem.

Finally, I called a local restaurant that we frequent on occasion; a restaurant that rarely does to-go orders, and a restaurant that does not cater. I explained our situation and said that I needed some help. The friendly woman who answered the phone said they would be happy to help. She was sure they could put some things together and have it all ready for me by five that afternoon. In addition, she asked if it would be all right if they put it in a basket rather than a box, as it would present so much better to our friends. I thanked her and immediately called my husband to let him know I finally had the situation handled and to tell him the story.

The very next day, my husband decided to take his entire staff to lunch, and where do you think he went? Of course, to our “helpful” restaurant; the restaurant that, despite not serving dinner and not being a caterer, stepped in and went above and beyond.

So, you have to ask yourself: how much is “NO” costing you? How much business are you losing because your employees do not understand how valuable each customer is and how important it is to find a way to say “yes” — a way to help your customers? I feel sure that if in either of those first two situations I had been talking with the owner, they would have found a way to help me. They would not have wanted to lose the business.

Here are four critical areas in which you are losing (this is what “NO” is costing you):

  1. The Sale: Anyone who runs a business knows that every sales opportunity is a gift. Customers have so many options, and we have so much competition, we need to count ourselves lucky every single time a customer comes through our door. How they are treated, what their experience is, and how easy we are to do business with affects our bottom line directly. If we do not pass the test, we not only lose this sale, we will most likely lose future sales. With both of those businesses that I tried to give my business to, the word “no” cost them sales and revenue. Sales and revenue that were very easy to make: I called them, I was ready to buy, and as I needed a quality product quickly, price was not an issue.
  2. The Additional Business: When a customer comes to us to buy one thing, there is often opportunity to share with them ideas for other products and services we offer that will enhance their buying experience. Sometimes the mere experience of actually coming to our place of business inspires them to make additional purchases. I know my husband; had he gone to either establishment to pick up a to-go order, he would not have made it past the cookie and bakery aisles without making multiple purchases. As it was, he not only took his entire staff to lunch at the place that helped us, he bought two extra tubs of homemade hummus — my favorite — to bring home to me!
  3. The Repeat Business: If the experience is not good, if you are not easy to do business with, then you can rest assured your customer will not be back for a second round. Even if you do make the initial sale, if you are not accommodating, if you are not helpful, they will not return. The first two places’ “required rules” were so ridiculous that we may go back to make small purchases, but we will scratch them off the list for anything we need that requires special attention. Note that those “special attention” purchases are the ones with the high margins. Both my husband and I decided that the last place we called made this entire experience so enjoyable and so hassle-free that going forward, we are going to use them. We love the food at the first restaurant we tried, but their “rules” made it clear we were not valued as customers, and the organic grocery just had us laughing. It was simply ridiculous that they could not put six pieces of chicken in a box if I asked over the phone, but they could do it if I came in person and requested it. This told us they had no idea what they were doing or how to run a business.
  4. The Referral: And lastly, “no” is costing you the referral. I think that is all I really need to say about that one. I mean, given our experience, which business do you think we are going to suggest our friends and family frequent and spend their hard earned money with? Yes, certainly the business who helped and supported us. In addition, you can believe that we will find ample opportunity to share the bad experiences we had with the other two businesses, ensuring that our friends and family do not make the same mistake we did.

So think about it: what is “no” costing you? Do your employees understand how precious every single customer and every single sale is? Do you have rules and regulations in your organization that may be outdated or so strict that your team is actually turning away business?  Take some time to talk with and train your team about the value of the customer. The minimal investment it takes will pay off big time when you discover just how much the word “YES” can add to your bottom line! And our friends? They are home, resting comfortably, and we plan to call “our restaurant” back next week to take over another dinner!