It can be tough to say "no" to someone and even tougher to do so in writing. Though it might be tempting to put it off or just forget about doing it, that gives the impression that your business doesn't care about its customers, employees or whoever else is waiting for your reply.
It's professional to send a courteous, prompt reply to any form of communication you receive, including those you have to decline. There are ways to write refusal letters for a job or refund as well as warranty claim rejection letters and others so they provide closure while softening the "no" response.
Serve Up the Sandwich Approach
On the very best sandwiches, the bread that holds your fillings is just as important as the fillings themselves. Using mass-produced, store-brand white bread just won't cut it. When you take the time to select a handmade, artisan bread baked with prime ingredients or a tender roll shined with egg and shimmering with seeds, it elevates the sandwich to a much higher level.
It's the same when you have to deliver unwelcome news, especially in writing. The recipient isn't able to see the emotions on your face or hear your voice's gentle delivery unless you write the words accordingly. That means not blurting out your "no" answer harshly in the first sentence. Instead, start with a pleasant comment, such as a thank you for writing or for thinking of your company or something else you can appreciate about the request.
With the "bread" as a buffer, you can then get to the "meat" of your response. In two or three sentences, simply state that you cannot honor your letter-writer's request, making sure your "no" is very clear. Follow that with another thank you, a helpful tip perhaps and an assurance that you'd be happy to help in another way in the future if you can. That's the other piece of bread that serves to further cushion the "no."
View a Sample Refusal Letter
Although the reason for your "no" response will make each letter a bit different, it helps to see a sample refusal letter to customers or anyone whose request you need to deny.
Dear (use actual name from the letter),
Thank you for writing to (your company name). We take all customer inquiries, requests and comments seriously and do our best to help in whatever way possible.
Unfortunately, we won't be able to accommodate your request for (a refund, information, etc.) (In your second sentence, give a reason you can't help, adding additional sentences if necessary.) I'm enclosing (a coupon, other information, another deal, etc.) to help make up for not being able to fulfill your request for a (refund, replacement per warranty, specific information, etc.)
We appreciate your contacting (your company name). We value your business and look forward to serving you. Please write to us anytime if you need help with another request in the future.
(your name, your title, company name on three lines)
Sign the letter personally. You can see that the first paragraph is the top piece of bread, the second paragraph is the meat of your response and the third paragraph is the bottom piece of bread. Be sure to use the letter-writer's name since you have it from his letter. Luckily, you're not forced to write "Dear Sir" or "To Whom It May Concern," which both sound so impersonal.
Writing a Warranty Claim Rejection Letter
Businesses must have strict warranty rules to be fair to all customers. So, when a customer asks to have an item replaced but the warranty is invalid – having expired, for example – you have no choice but to decline the request. Be sure to give her a clear explanation for why she isn't covered by the warranty and why you must abide by the warranty date. In the second paragraph of your warranty claim rejection letter, where you get to the "meat" of your argument, say something such as:
I'm sorry to say that the warranty for your blender* expired as of (date). Therefore, by the terms of the warranty, we cannot replace the blender for you. Our warranties are designed to provide a replacement product for a reasonable amount of time, which in this case was a period of two years. If the blender had broken during the two years, we would have gladly replaced it, but we must abide by the date to be fair to all of our customers.
*name the specific product in question
Declining a Refund Request
Companies can't afford to give refunds to every customer who requests one, so they must have a valid reason for wanting a refund. If the product broke the first time the customer used it, of course you'd want to make amends. However, if it was used for five years and then broke, you'd probably be justified in saying that the product was in service for numerous years but isn't expected to last forever. A refund refusal letter sample for the explanation paragraph could be:
We take great care to provide our customers with linens* that will serve them well for many years. Our goal is always to balance what it costs us to make a product with the useful life we expect it to have. The fibers in linens such as sheets break down with continued use and washes, which is what gives them the softness many people enjoy but which also makes them eventually wear thin and tear. We feel that after five years of use, it's reasonable for sheets to begin to wear, so we won't be able to refund your purchase price.
* name the item the customer bought
Informing Job Applicants of Results
Applicants who are interviewed for a job are advised to promptly send a thank-you letter to the interviewer for taking time for the interview and considering them for the job. Yet, many employers never notify job applicants when they weren't selected. This leaves them wondering whether the job has been filled or if perhaps you've delayed your decision. Give them closure with a letter.
Thank you for taking the time to interview for the job of department manager. The entire team was impressed with your background, and the hiring decision was tough.
However, we've decided to offer the job to someone whose experience more closely matches the job functions of this position. Since this is a new department, the person in this role will have additional responsibility beyond what department managers usually do, including deciding what the department will and will not do on a daily basis. We believe that by hiring someone who already has a great deal of familiarity with this industry, the additional duties will not be overwhelming.
I wish you great success in your job search. Please consider us in the future when you see a job opening that you feel would be a good fit for you.
Keeping the Door Open
Regardless of the outlandish requests you may receive – and you're sure to get some that will shock you – it's important to choose your words carefully. Have empathy by considering how you feel when a company disappoints you. Write as though you have to say "no" to a dear friend whom you don't want to lose. When it comes to customers and others with whom you do business, the goal is to always keep their interest and respect.
Barbara Bean-Mellinger is a freelance writer who lives in the Washington, D.C. area. She has written on business topics for afkinsider.com, smallbusiness.chron.com, Harbor Style Magazine, the Charlotte Sun and more, as well as advertising copy and materials. Barbara holds a B.S. from the University of Pittsburgh and has won numerous awards in B2B and B2C marketing.