How to reject customer demands but still build brand loyalty

As your company grows, customers will demand more and more from your products and services. While most entrepreneurs generally will do nearly anything to please and retain customers, and while smart businesses are always keeping ears to the ground for new customer insights, wise managers know that they will have to make tough choices about actually taking action on this feedback. Communicating these choices to customers can be uncomfortable, but can also be an opportunity to make customers feel satisfied, validated and more loyal than ever to your brand.

Below are five tips your business can use to avoid chasing after the wrong types of customer feedback, and to reduce compromises of otherwise sound customer service, marketing and product development strategies.

Solve problems before you build new features

When customers complain or share suggestions, they may not always be clear about what they need. For a business to be successful, Kevin Jenkins, founder of Teem and former product manager at Edmodo, says the first step is to actually understand the ask. Business owners often react to specific requests instead of taking a step back to identify overarching issues that their clients face.

“When I was at Edmodo, we had many teachers asking to print student reports and we had spent all this time making the reports amazing and interactive on web and mobile,” says Jenkins. “But when we asked what they were trying to accomplish, we found that many really just wanted an easier way to see historical data. They were printing the reports to compare over time! So we made it easier to see that data right in the reports themselves.”

“The role of the designer, entrepreneur, or product manager is to go beyond simply asking a customer what they want,” says Saul Gurdus, vice president of insights and enablement at Citrix. “Their job is to deeply understand the customer and the challenges they face, then combine that understanding with what’s feasible and what is viable from a business perspective. The intersection of desirability, feasibility and viability is where designers, entrepreneurs, and product managers must live.”

By being exclusively attentive to customers’ expressed needs, you miss out on opportunities to innovate. In many cases, customers do not always know exactly what they want until you give it to them.

Let data drive decisions

Businesses are successful when they meet the needs of many customers—not just one.

At Get A Copywriter, majority rules, says director of content Markelle Harden. “We have a diverse customer base, and if a client approaches us with a suggestion that hasn’t worked or won’t work for our other clients, we don’t take the bait. If we can make changes to their individual platform, we’re happy to accommodate, but we don’t make blanket changes without a solid ‘thumbs up’ from the majority of our clients. We usually send out a survey to our clients before implementing broad, sweeping changes, so it’s easy to have majority data at our fingertips.”

When Pocket Prep abandoned its paid app strategy and adopted a freemium model with in-app purchases, users were furious. Founder and CEO Peter Murphy received numerous complaints from customers feeling deceived. Despite all that, profits skyrocketed. According to Murphy, “Our analytics showed a 220% increase in revenue when we switched to the in-app purchase model over our previous pay-to-download approach. Customer satisfaction is at an all time high and refunds dropped 92% from the prior period, all because the customer could try the app before buying in.”

Murphy knows, “Ultimately, customers will always have their opinions. We take the good with the bad and provide the highest level of support we can, making sure to follow the true voice of the customer while keeping our feet planted firmly in reality.”

Be clear about company limitations while continuing to offer value

An easy way to reject customer feedback is simply to ignore it, which is what many companies do. “But that’s hardly personal. I sure wouldn’t want my emails going ignored,” writes Len Markidan in an article for Groove’s Customer Support Academy. As an alternative, Markidan says, “You could lie and say you’ll think about it. But that’s not how I want to do business, and again, that’s not how I’d want to be treated as a customer.” Instead, companies should respond by acknowledging receipt of the request, explaining resource limitations, reiterating their long-term strategy, and offering value.

Markidan adds, “We’re not simply turning down the feature request. Instead, we’re using the ‘rejection’ as an opportunity to help the customer get more out of Groove, even if we can’t (or won’t) build the feature they want. We’ve found that with many requests, there’s a hack, workaround or alternative we can show the customer that will accomplish what they’re looking to do.”

Fire problematic customers

When customers make it clear that they have no choice but to switch providers, do not stop them. In most cases, they have already made up their mind unless your business is willing to compromise its values and meet all of the customer’s demands.

“Sometimes there truly is the ‘never’ and you don’t have an alternative to solve their real problem,” says Jenkins of Teem. “After making sure I can’t solve their problem some other way, I’ll explain the rationale for not being able to provide the feature. But I think it’s rare that there is a single feature that dooms a deal. More often a customer is already considering alternatives and you could even help them select a better alternative for them. And that’s a completely reasonable thing to do, so long as your other customers appreciate the direction you’re going,”

For clients that continue to complain about their “negative experience” with you, proactively issue a refund. It is generally a small price to pay in the long run, especially if it helps placate an upset and vocal customer who refuses to be satisfied otherwise.

“Make them feel right”

Customer service expert Chip Bell advises, “It is important to remember they are always the ustomer and they deserved to be valued. As Stew Leonard [of Stew Leonard’s Dairy Stores] says, ‘Our job is to make them feel right.’ If you have customers who make requests that are bad for the company, it always a good idea to be grateful and be humble. The objective is to be effective. Valuing the person does not require succumbing to his or her request.”

Of course, rejecting feedback requires tact. Bell shares, “Affirm the fact that they cared enough to offer ideas and potential solutions even if their ideas are unworkable for your organization. Who knows, the next idea or solution they offer might be a jewel!”

Post by Danny Wong

Danny Wong is an entrepreneur, marketer, and writer. He is the co-founder of Blank Label (an award winning menswear company focusing on luxury made-to-measure garments) and does marketing at Grapevine (a platform that drives eCommerce, helping retailers partner with YouTube celebrities). Tweet him @dannywong1190