When Should You Say No To A Customer

I was talking with a few of my peers at Starbucks the week of 5/8/13 about vision, core values, passion, strategy and customer service.  It was an inspiring morning as I love to talk with other entrepreneurs to understand how they handle the daily challenges of running their business.


The conversation began with the understanding that every business begins with a passion to solve a problem.  The owner(s) of the business have a desire to share their ideas, passion and dreams with others to make life better.  This usually begins with a story to help others identify with the painful problem(s) to be solved, the solution options that were evaluated and the what the future holds. The vision is what makes the business special and must be passed on from day to day, week to week and year to year.  The most important carrier of the vision is the CEO.  It is then very important to hire others that also engage with the vision and take ownership in achieving the goals, objectives and long-term deliverables, products and services of the business.  A business able to pass the vision along from generation to generation will survive and prosper.


These are the core elements that when mixed together form the essential foundation of a business; like a cement.  These should be readily visible, intuitively obvious and easily articulated by every member of the business.  Why?  Because it is the #1 priority that every employee understand and embody the vision and core values of the business. When others outside the business want to know more about why the business exists and what makes it different from other businesses in the same market, each employee needs to be able to articulate and defend its foundation and territory.

Example: Starbucks vs Scooters

The main difference between these two businesses goes far beyond coffee.  The CEO of Starbucks has demonstrated he has a story to tell and a real vision to make a difference in people’s lives; whereas, Scooters sells coffee. This is a huge difference. Everything that the employees of Starbucks do confirms that vision which is much bigger than just selling coffee.  It’s about the 3rd place, community, service and inspiring others.   With that vision, Starbucks could sell anything; but, it just so happens that they sell coffee.

So, what do you stand for, what is your foundation and what propels you out of bed every single day to make life more simple, more enjoyable and more inspiring for others who you have not even met yet.  Take some time to write them down in black and white today.

Here are a few examples to get the pen moving.
Tom Shoes


So when you tell others about yourself or the business you represent …
– what do you tell them
– how do you tell them
– how much do you tell them
– how memorable do you make it
– do they leave inspired
– do you make a lasting impression
– will they call you back
– will they remember you tomorrow

What is your elevator speech? In less than 3 seconds, share your personal identity.

Identity is less about WHAT you do and more about WHO you are. Your tag line needs to be personal and engaging. People understand personal because it is intertwined with the human emotion and our cerebral cortex.  The story is told about a couple who was looking for a babysitter.  They would clearly choose someone they know personally and who is less qualified over someone more mature, with more experience and who they do not know personally. The moral of the story is that trust is personal. Trust is related to our emotions rather than our logic or analytical mindset.

Swinging back to the equation of identity, we see that the appeal for others to jump over any adoption chasm is an emotional decision based on personal trust.  Thus, we need a story that appeals to others where they are.  An appeal that transcends and overrules geographic, religious and all the other mind sets of our past.  We need a vision and a story that shows unity, that appeals to others and brings us together as a community. We need an identity that not only paints a true picture of who we are (vision, core values and future direction) but also inspires others so much that they will join us on our journey because they identify with those same ideas, beliefs and ideals.  People ultimately get behind a movement, journey, business, product, event, etc not for us but ultimately for themselves. The driver is often a personal commitment to the greater good and to be a part of something much bigger than themselves.

A Few Historic Movements
– MLK and Civil Rights           http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martin_Luther_King,_Jr.
– KONY 2012 Movement        http://invisiblechildren.com/KONY/

Can you identify with these?
Are you inspired?

So, let’s get back to the purpose of this article … which is really a question of “when is it ok to tell a customer ‘No’?”

A great example comes from the Leadership of Southwest Airlines (SA).

A man once wrote a reply to SA to inform them that employees should be more focused on their jobs and less on having fun; especially, during the safety instructions review.

The Leadership of SA simply replied back ..  “We will miss you.!”

– why would SA want to send a message like that?
– why would SA want to lose even one valuable client, customer or user of their services?

The answer is really simple …

SA has a vision and core values that elevate the importance of fun in everything they are about.  If fun is in your identity and a critical core DNA element of your foundation, the sacrifice of those ideals for even one client brings down the entire house of cards.  If SA gave into even one person, it would be showing the entire world that the Leadership of SA is built on a bunch of platitudes. Which would then be a signal to the employees that what they had been told by SA Leadership was a bunch of mumbo jumbo.  And before you know it, SA’s reputation and trust would be on the chopping block.

You either have a vision, core values and a strategy to stand on and defend and that provides a litmus test against which all other SWOT are evaluated or you do not.  Your actions always speak louder than your words.

So, when do you tell a customer or client NO?
When the answer will cause a catastrophic blow to your identity (personal or business).

Even one shot to the core can be fatal!

Your identity is founded on your
– vision
– core values
– strategy

Defend your identity at all cost!  We could also segway this article into the importance of Identity and Brand as they are joined at the hip.  Defending one ultimately means defending the other.


Always keep your eye firmly planted on the foundation of your identity.  Be intentional about your focus.  Don’t sweat the small stuff; especially, that stuff that consumes 80% of your focus and returns a mere 20% of the revenue.  Know the importance of your litmus test, continue to refine it and apply it liberally for best results.  It will keep you firmly planted on the path to growth and prosperity.

To whom should you say NO!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xR005DxdBc8 [Southwest:  We Will Miss You] http://ezinearticles.com/?Do-You-Stand-Up-For-Your-Values?&id=5651185   http://www.aspirekc.com/Blog/2010/07/26/are-you-using-your-core-values-to-stand-out/

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