Just Say No

By Bill Doran


We have all had customers that do not fit our business model. Recently, I have been in a few different situations. One was with a former student, and the other person was land-based. With both of these people, listening and respect for others were missing. I want to share some items discussed with the former student over the past weeks. I am sure you all can quickly recognize these examples.

Here is the former student:


  1. We bought some scuba equipment, and would you service them for us as we are going south to your winter location for a Caribbean diving holiday?
    1. There was one BCD she bought from me as a pool BCD.
    2. There were two sets of regulators. One was vintage (an excellent way to say old and that they should be on a shelf), and the other was “only about 15 years old”. They were not purchased from me and were bought at a swap.


  1. I discussed with her that these items are not ones that I can or want to service and that I would not dive in the ocean with them. “She was ok to bring them anyway.”
  2. Next, I discussed if she would like to take her advanced course while on the island. She said that she was not looking for an advanced course at this time. He (her dive buddy) is already higher than advanced.


  1. We are coming to your location and would like you to dive with us.
    1. I asked if they “would like to book me to guide some dives for them. No, they were ok there too.”


  1. “While here on the island. They invited me to go for a dive with them as they both had half tanks left over from their previous dive.”
    1. I declined and told them that diving a half tank was unsafe and why. I reminded her of the one-tank, one-dive rule I had taught her. Once again, I offered an advanced course. No, she said she was not ready for that.
  1. Later in the week, they invited me to join them on a night dive and a deep wreck dive.
    1. Once again, I declined and discussed why both of those dives were advanced and beyond her certification.
    2. Once again, I offered an advanced course. I told her that she is seeking to do advanced dives; therefore, she needs to be advanced. For a third time, the course was declined.
    3. You are likely thinking, “Bill will be done with them. Do they not get it that Bill charges for these professional services?” You are correct; I have had enough and would like not ever to have them as a customer. Would you?
    4. To make things worse, a “Divemaster” took them out on both the night dive and then a 130-foot wreck dive in a current. REALLY! What were both the divemaster and the dive centre thinking of taking people on those dives who are not certified for these? WOW! Something is clearly wrong here!




Is this a customer that I want to deal with? Is this a divemaster or dive centre that I want to deal with? The answer is NO!


Now, here is the land-based person. They may not be a diver, but you can see that you and I would not want them as a customer. This person, fresh to our tropical island, went to lay by the pool at midday in the sun. I mentioned that they needed a cover-up and sunscreen to avoid getting burned, which, by the way, they did the same thing last year. Well, I will just say that their response was beyond rude. A few hours later, and no surprise, they were burnt, and by the next day, they had blisters. Over the coming several days, they were so uncomfortable that they made others uncomfortable. This was a self-caused injury that affected them and others. Is this someone you would want as a customer? Would you want them to come back again?


So, can you say no to people? Can you fire a customer?


As business owners, we aim to make customers happy and provide them with the best possible service while we profit. However, it’s inevitable that you will come across some customers who do not fit your business model or are impossible to please. In these situations, knowing when and how to say no to a customer is essential. But remember to be professional and respectful.


Why saying no is sometimes necessary


There are reasons why you may need to say no to a customer!


Here are a few of those reasons:

  1. Say no when the customer wants something that you do not offer. In the case of a diver, it is essential to be honest and let them know that you cannot provide that service or product. In my former student example, no, I cannot service that equipment.
  2. Say no when the customer is asking for something unreasonable. If a customer asks for something that is impossible or requires too much time or resources, you need to say no. Perhaps their request is just not profitable. Then no, you are in business. In my former student example, I simply will not take them diving for free. Why did this other diving centre do so? Are they not in business, and do they not care to meet industry standards? Are they looking for an accident? They, too, should have said no. They were foolish to say yes.
  3. Always say no when the customer is abusive or disrespectful. Our staff ourselves, our business and our customers all need respect. In some cases, abuse or disrespect can be verbal; in others, it can be physical abuse of our staff or equipment. Remember that disrespect is not always the same as abuse. The people in both of my examples, the former student and the land-based person, were clearly disrespectful to me. Would you agree that the other diving centre and divemaster were also disrespectful? In these situations, it’s essential to prioritize the safety and well-being of yourself, your staff, your customers, your equipment, and your facility. Say no!


So, how do you professionally and respectfully say no to a customer?

Saying no to a customer can be difficult, but there are always ways to do it respectfully.


  1. Be honest: Being transparent with your customers is essential. Let them know the reason why you’re unable to fulfill their request.
    1. The equipment is too old and out of date.
    2. You need an advanced course.
    3. I am booked for dives with other customers.
    4. I do not think you should book this type of trip that I can provide.


  1. Offer alternatives: Even if you can’t provide the exact service or product the customer is looking for, you may be able to offer an alternative that meets their needs.
    1. I can arrange a rental or purchase of equipment.
    2. Would you like to sign up for the advanced course? We can then sort out your diving request.
    3. Would you like to book some dives?
    4. Perhaps another type of holiday would suit you better.


  1. Be polite: No matter how frustrated or upset the customer may be, it’s important to remain polite and professional.
    1. Use calm, polite words.
    2. Use phrases that offer more direction than yes or no.
    3. Ask them how they would like to work things and give options (see point 2.)


  1. Use consistency and clarity in your answers and statements.
    1. consistency and clarity is always the best path to good communication.


  1. Apologize: Even if the situation is out of your control, it’s important to apologize for any inconvenience or disappointment the customer may experience.
    1. It is ok to apologize. It does not mean you are wrong. It means you are sorry for the situation and look forward to a resolution.
    2. Be sincere in the apology.
    3. Do not apologize with conditions or a “but.”
    4. Use the phrase “I am sorry that this has not worked out.”


  1. Thank the customer: It’s important to thank them for their business and let them know you appreciate their patronage.


Saying no to a customer can be difficult, but protecting yourself and your staff is necessary. Sometimes, a no can lead to a more respectful relationship with your customers. By being honest, offering alternatives, and remaining polite, you can say no to a customer in a way that respects their needs and that of your business.

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