Helping a customer deal with rejection

Helping a customer deal with rejection

There are times in a customer experience where rejection is the only outcome. For whatever reason your business is unable to service the customer’s needs and you need to say “no”. What happens at that point can determine whether you start a lasting relationship with someone who becomes a model customer, or you have to spend time and energy dealing with growing negativity about your business across the world.

Often we’ve found companies don’t invest time and energy in considering the rejection path in their customer experience. When the decision point is reached that leads to “no” a box that follows that might offer up a letter explaining the rejection or an email box for them to subscribe to a newsletter. Deeper thought around how the customer might respond to that rejection, how they could be moved into a more acceptable position and the impact on the experience is rarely (if ever) considered.

You’ve said “No”. What does the customer do?

The potential response to a rejection can be thought of as a spectrum.

At the negative extreme is an antisocial response. This is the one companies fear as it can involve everything from a rejected customer swearing down the phone to let off steam to threats of violence against employees to lawsuits and bad press. 

In the centre is the response most companies hope for: the customer withdraws quietly and goes about their business. Repeatedly we’ve heard this being described as the best possible outcome.

The positive extreme is the prosocial response. This is where the customer’s attitude is a desire to be accepted and so they try to engage and adjust their behaviour to become acceptable. Usually ignored, this response is the sweat spot for companies as it has the potential to create highly engaged customers.

What triggers the behaviour?

The customer’s response to rejection doesn’t just happen:  it’s driven by a number of factors that include past experience and fundamental patterns in their behaviour. There are, however, three key areas which often come to the surface in customer experience modelling.

The greater the perceived cost to the individual the more extreme the reaction is likely to be. For one person being rejected for a car loan just means they don’t get a weekend runabout while for another it means not being able to get to the new job they’ve been offered.

Whether there are alternatives available will also play a role, which in some cases could be a cumulative effect based on past experience. The more a customer has been rejected the more likely they are to react in an extremely pro or social way. 

Finally, there is the perceived fairness of the decision. This can be triggered by multiple factors, such as a complex application process that requires significant investment in time and energy, poor information at the point of rejection or even a sense of betrayal if they’ve had a long-standing relationship with your business.

One of the models we use to help understand how rejection can form – and how to tackle it.

Supporting the customer during “No”

Managing rejection as part of the customer experience requires a strategic approach to ensure the business is prepared to deal with the fallout, that the rejection is crafted in a way to increase the potential for a prosocial response and that aftercare is provided that leads them to increase their potential for a “yes”.

Preparing for conflict is where we’ve seen most companies focus their efforts. Agents are provided with “conflict management” training, policies around abuse towards staff created and publicised and social media swept to counter negative reviews and comments. Strategically it should go beyond this as routes into alternatives such as debt counselling, charities and support groups are followed. Other options we’ve explored with clients include interactive action plans that have been structured to address issues that triggered the rejection and, once completed, guarantee acceptance.

Executing the rejection needs careful designed to move beyond the rather cold “computer says no” used all too often. The reasons behind the rejection must be explained as simply as possible. If external data sources such as credit rating agencies have been used these should be identified. A degree of empathy in your language can be beneficial here, although be wary of it becoming patronising.

Once the rejection has been delivered the aftercare can start. Clear signposting and nudging to all the tools and resources previously identified is essential, all personalised to the customer’s specific reasons for being rejected. Care is required here though to avoid creating the perception that you’re simply pushing the customer’s problem onto someone else.

Aligning triggers and tactics

During the application process questions can be used to determine the importance of the transaction to the individual, which in turn can help to structure the response. Asking for the reason why a loan is being applied for is common yet quite blunt. One company restructured this question to get further insight into how important the loan was likely to be for the individual, which in turn helped to structure how the rejection was presented.

Making the application process clear and transparent can defuse perceptions of unfairness. During phone applications the loan process used by one lender was set out and then signposted as the call progressed. When the loan decision point was reached the agents explained what was happening and were able to point back to this process when a rejection came. This approach reduced their on-call antisocial responses by half.

Appropriate signposting can be as much about what to leave out as what to put in. Having taken a policy decision not to insure people with drink-drive convictions, an insurance broker changed its process to detect this early in its process. Rather than decline the applicant and end the process there, its management took the decision to proactively refer them to a specialist in the market. Importantly, the broker rejected an idea to also include information on alcohol abuse, reasoning it would be patronising and potentially insulting which could trigger anti-social responses. By creating a process that was fair and presented alternatives the broker reduced anti-social responses to near-zero and saw a small increase in referral business from people turned down for insurance but felt they’d been dealt with fairly by a business that helped them.

Lessons for leadership

Investing time in understanding how to design pro-social responses in rejected customers will reduce the anti-social responses your teams have to resolve. Consider looking at getting to “no” faster, being clearer in why you’ve rejected them, and offering a path to an acceptance.