When a Customer Refuses Your Help

When a Customer Refuses Your Help

When a customer refuses help, it can sometimes feel personal, like a form of rejection. As I’ve interacted with frontline reps, both as a speaker, a trainer, and a customer, I’ve seen how the simplest, most benign “no” from a customer can cause a customer-facing professional to shut down.

It’s almost as if you can see the thought bubbles above service reps head.

  • When a Customer Refuses Your Help“Can’t you see I’m trying to help you?”
  • “Really, I just want to do this, because it’s a benefit for you.”
  • “I’m just trying to do my job.”

Sometimes, this is a personality issue; it’s just how the rep is wired.

Sometimes, it is a training issue; the rep fails to see that their job is making the customer happy not performing Task X.

Often, it’s a bit of both.

Not Taking Help Is Not Rejection

I experienced this dynamic a few days ago. I was checking out at a large sporting goods store the other day when the cashier asked me for my rewards card. I told her that we had an account, but that I didn’t have the card.

She asked for the phone number associated with the card, and I gave her my wife’s mobile number, as she usually holds the rewards accounts for us. The cashier could not find the account.

It had taken me a lot longer to find my item than I had hoped, and I was in a rush. So, when she asked for a different number, I told her not to worry about it. She offered again, saying maybe she could look it up by the address. I told her that it was no big deal. Then, for the fourth time,  she asked to help find it, this time using my name.

“Please, don’t worry about it,” I responded. “I have to go.” I said it nicely (I thought) and not impatiently, but the cashier completely shut down on me.

She became silent, almost visibly sullen, and continued to check out the transaction. I realized what was happening and thanked her for trying so hard and told her how much I appreciated the effort, but I received no reaction. 

Finally, as I was leaving, I gave her an enthusiastic “have a great day!” to try to buoy her spirits a bit; I was given a cursory “thank you for shopping with us” and a turned back in response.

I wish I could say that was the first time something like this had happened.

Training for Understanding

For those in leadership roles, it is important to inculcate a spirit of customer centricity that is focused on experiences not processes. Core experiential actions should be systematized and trained, but reps should be trained and empowered to be flexible and adaptable in any customer-facing situation.

For those on the front lines of service, always remember that helping customers does not come from a checklist, it comes from an attitude of helpfulness and from creating customer experiences that resonate.

Each customer is unique, and one rule should guide every interaction:

Always fit the experience to the customer, not the customer to the experience. Click To Tweet


By Adam Toporek. Adam Toporek is an internationally recognized customer service expert, keynote speaker, and workshop leader. He is the author of Be Your Customer's Hero: Real-World Tips & Techniques for the Service Front Lines (2015), as well as the founder of the popular Customers That Stick® blog and co-host of the Crack the Customer Code podcast.

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