Is it ever OK to tell a client no?

I had a conversation the other day with a colleague who told me that at their company they were told to never tell the client no. I was dumb-founded. Obviously, there must have been times when they were allowed to tell a client no. He informed me that they, as project managers, were never allowed to tell a client no. If they got a request, and the team could do it, then they must say yes and deliver.

I asked what happened when the team couldn’t deliver. He stated that since his old company was a services company, the requests he received could always be solved by throwing additional resources as the task. And thus, he was “fortunate” enough to never have to say no.

However, many people work on projects that can’t be solved by simply throwing more resources at the problem. How are project managers on these projects supposed to respond?

Is it OK to tell a client no?

Personally, I think it is OK to say no. Clients obviously do not like hearing the word no, but as long as you can explain the reason the request can’t be accommodated they tend to be ok with the outcome. As long as you give the client all the information that leads to your decision and rationally explain to them why you have to say no, they will understand where you are coming from.

When is it OK to tell a client no?

It is acceptable to tell a client no in several situations. They are:

  • When the request cannot possibly be fulfilled/satisfied
  • When the request can be fulfilled, but it will put the rest of the project at risk
  • When the request can be fulfilled, but does not help the project at all

What if the request can be done, but is out of scope?

Sometimes, you will come across a request from a client that can be fulfilled and will not put the project at risk. However, the request is outside of the scope of what the client has contracted for. What do you do in a situation like that? Every company has their own stance on this question, but personally I think that each request has to be individually analyzed:

  • If the request requires low effort and delivers low reward, then the request can be fulfilled after all other requests are fulfilled
  • If the request requires low effort and delivers high reward, then it makes sense to satisfy the request
  • If the request requires high effort and delivers low reward, then it does not make sense to satisfy the request
  • If the request requires high effort and delivers high reward, then the request can be fulfilled after all other requests are fulfilled

Conclusion

So, in conclusion, it is OK to tell a client no. If you have analyzed the situation and have determined that saying yes to the request would cause the project harm or would not return adequate value, then you are allowed to and have the obligation to tell your client that the team’s time would be better spent focusing on other tasks.

Feedback

How do you decide if you are going to tell the client no? How do you tell the client no?

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