Why saying NO is good customer service

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It was 7am and I was at my desk. I’d just worked eight days in a row despite promising myself I’d take Sundays off, and I had to make an early start again today because I’d promised a client they’d have their work early. I felt frazzled, stressed and tired and the day had just begun. What’s more, I needed to summon the high levels of energy and creativity needed for a photo shoot by that afternoon. My team was already juggling a full workload and I needed to handle the rest.

As I sat there editing a hundred photos as fast as my hand could click the mouse, hunching over the computer, gripping my coffee mug for dear life… it occurred to me that today, it would be a stretch to deliver my best to the clients I was working with.  I had limited time to choose and edit this client’s photos and then drive over to deliver them personally, before wrapping my brain around that client’s photo shoot – going over brief, brand and strategy, gathering and checking equipment, getting there and then delivering a creative and efficient shoot.

It made me realise that saying yes to every request (Can you squeeze my shoot in this week? Can you send me some photos straight away?) did not make me a saint, it just made me a business owner who wasn’t using her brain.

I’ve heard it said that when you say yes to something, you are saying no to something else, because you can’t possibly do everything. Even with the most wonderful team members by my side, I still cannot do everything. So by bending this way and that to accommodate an extra request, I’m inevitably letting someone else down – it could be a client, but it’s more often a loved one who also wants a share of my time, or it’s letting myself down – my values, my health, my sense of satisfaction in my work.

As the day wore on and I continued churning out the work, not enjoying it as I normally would but feeling I had no choice at this point, I became more agitated and stressed. I knew at the end of the day I wouldn’t have a sense of achievement because most of the things I had actually planned to do today had gone out the window. My to do list remained a mile long.

When I finally arrived home late that evening – too tired to think of cooking and wondering if there was any wine even though it was only Monday – I felt suddenly furious that I’d allowed my day to be hijacked yet again. I reached for that glass of wine (well, I needed it) and a notepad and pen, threw myself onto the couch and started to write, in quite large and angry scrawl, a list of things I will and won’t do from now on.

I WILL make time each week to take a complete break from my business.
I WON’T book a shoot on my designated day off, even if that means missing out on a new client.
I WILL remind clients of the terms they signed when they make requests outside of the reasonable boundaries I have set.
I WON’T drop what I’m doing to attend to one client just because they ‘scream the loudest’. 
I WILL put my health and wellbeing first no matter what, because without that, I’ve got nothing to give myself or anyone else!

The ‘angry list’ went on for quite a while, but I’ve since distilled it into a few short points that summarise my values about how I structure my day to deliver the best customer service I can. Whenever I feel like I’m being backed into a corner, I look at these signposts and change my behaviour to get back on track.

I still instinctively want to say ‘yes’ and make promises I can’t always keep because I really want all my clients to be deliriously happy, but I’m learning that saying NO more often ultimately serves my customers better.

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