Categorized | Customer Care, Support EDGE

Handling Unrealistic Customer Requests

Every once in a while a customer will ask for something that you just can’t deliver. In many cases, the reason you can’t deliver the specific request is because it may be against company policy, or it’s a product you don’t support or sell; or maybe it violates a regulation or a law to comply with the customer’s request; or it may simply may be unethical to do so.

Even in these cases, our goal is customer satisfaction. And it’s easy to let this kind of situation work against that goal by allowing ourselves to become a dead-end to the customer when we tell them we can’t fulfill their request. So you’ll need to take extra measures in negotiation with the customer to reach an acceptable resolution. Here are some tips for doing just that.

Tip #1: Resolve to find a solution for the customer. Remember one of the personal-development goals we keep coming back to is to break the mold without mold removal of being an order-taker and becoming instead a true, value-added business partner to the customer. And remember, the customer’s need is still legitimate, even if the specific request may not be. So make the distinction between what the customer is requesting and what it is they actually need to stay productive and to accomplish their goal.

Tip #2: Determine the customer’s underlying need. For instance, let’s say the customer is requesting that you provide access to an unsupported product or one that the customer isn’t authorized to use. By probing the customer and asking why they think need this product you’ll soon discover what their underlying need is. You may uncover that they are trying to do their job but are simply unaware of the other options they have to stay productive. Let’s say they brought in some files from home and those files are in an unsupported format, and that leads them to request access to a non-standard product. They may be completely unaware of the fact they you can help them convert those files to a usable format and one that uses an authorized application.

We could have said no to the customer request and left it at that. But the customer still has the same need, and by saying “no” we become a dead-end to customer productivity, and our reputation for customer service suffers as a result.

One way to soften the blow when you have to tell the customer “no” is to begin your response with a conciliatory phrase:

As you may be aware: “As you may be aware, Mr. customer, that product requires manager-level access. Can you give me a little more detail about why you might need this product?

Our records indicate: “John, our records indicate that your department doesn’t authorize access to this product. If you can elaborate a bit on what you’re trying to accomplish with this product I may be able to suggest an alternative solution

Normally: “Susan, normally, we prefer you use product xyz for this. Can you help me to understand a little bit better why you need product abc?

Phrase such as these imply the customer is reasonable enough and informed enough to know this is an unusual request. And when you speak to the customer in this way, it allows the customer to respond without becoming overly defensive.

Tip #3: Acknowledge the benefit of the customer’s idea. Once the customer explains what they are trying to do, the next step is to acknowledge the benefit of that idea: “Mr. Customer, I can certainly see how having access to xyz product would help in this case.

Tip #4: Explain the concern with the customer’s idea. My concern is, this type of request generally requires department-head approval, which could take several days, if it’s approved at all, and it sounds like you may need a solution sooner than that.”

Tip #5: Offer your alternative. Mr. customer, if you’d like I can walk you though how to convert those files to a format that would work with our standard products. That way you can continue working on them and not have to wait.

Tip #6: Get agreement from the customer that this is the right course of action. Mr. Customer, would you like to try that first to see how it works?

In some cases, the customer won’t accept your alternative, and when that occurs you may need to transfer the call to a supervisor, or escalate the request to someone else who may be able to help.

“Mr. customer, It looks as though I’ve exhausted my options for this request. Would you like to speak with a supervisor?”


“Mr. customer, It looks as though I’ve exhausted my options for this request. Would you like me to escalate this request to see if we can get approval for it?”

Remember, the key to dealing with this type of customer is not to become a dead-end. Always be an avenue to a solution, even if you yourself can’t provide that solution. If the customer perceives that you’re actively looking for an alternative, he or she will be much easier on you if in the end you simply cannot find an alternative solution.


Eric Svendsen, Ph.D., is principal and lead consultant of SCInc., a learning and development consulting company. Eric has over 20 years experience in creating and executing results-oriented, outcomes-based learning and development initiatives aligned to corporate goals. He specializes in leadership development and coaching, and leading organizational culture-change initiatives around customer support and safety leadership. Eric was personally involved in the development of certification standards, performance standards, exam validation, competency models and training for the customer-support and technical-support industry, and was instrumental in the creation of the only performance-based certification in that industry.

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