How to Write a Refusal Letter to a Customer or Anyone Else

by Lisa McQuerrey; Updated September 26, 2017

When you're running a business, there are times when you have to say no to a customer, vendor or associate. Doing it in a professional manner can help retain a good relationship.

Professional Letter Presentation

Compose your letter on company letterhead or stationary and send the letter from the most appropriate person in your organization. If there’s a customer complaint number, purchase order number or account to reference, include that in your correspondence.

State Your Case

Lead with a positive note, such as thanking the customer for his or her request, then get right to the point. For example, “Thank you for your patronage and your recent letter regarding the status of the warranty on your model XYZ video camera. After extensive research, we find we are unable to honor the warranty on your video camera as requested.”

Back Up Your Rationale

Give a specific reason for why you’re refusing a customer's request. For example, cite company policy, review the highlights of the case or otherwise summarize what's behind your decision. Include attachments if necessary, such as copies of contracts, warranties or other paperwork that supports your position. For example, “As you'll see in the attached warranty agreement, this full-service policy was in effect for the first 12 months of ownership. According to our records, you purchased your camera three years ago, making today's claim unwarranted.”

Offer a Compromise

In some cases, there is no room for compromise or for extending an olive branch, but if you want to keep the customer’s business down the road, offer some sort of concession to help soften the blow. For example, “We would like to offer you a 25 percent discount on the purchase of a new video camera,” or, “Enclosed, please find a $50 gift card which is redeemable for any electronics purchase in our store.”

Other Types of Refusals

In the course of running your business, you may have to turn down the terms of contracts with vendors, deny employee requests for vacation time or otherwise write professional correspondence to other business associates. Follow the same general guidelines described above, tailoring the letter to the specific situation.

Tips

  • Contract denial: “Thank you for the opportunity to renew our contract with ABC Refuse Removal. Due to your recent increase in fees, we have opted to employ the services of another provider.”

    Employee requests: “Your request for paid time off during the last week of December is denied, as this week is blacked out for all employees due to year-end inventory.

    Colleague invitations: “Thank you for the invitation to serve on your board of directors. Unfortunately, I have a number of prior professional commitments that prevent me from taking on any new roles at this time.”

Wrap it Up

Conclude your letter with an expression of gratitude for the existing relationship followed by an invitation to further discuss the matter if necessary. For example, “Thank you for your business. If you have questions or wish to discuss this matter further, please feel free to contact me directly.”

About the Author

Lisa McQuerrey has been a business writer since 1987. In 1994, she launched a full-service marketing and communications firm. McQuerrey's work has garnered awards from the U.S. Small Business Administration, the International Association of Business Communicators and the Associated Press. She is also the author of several nonfiction trade publications, and, in 2012, had her first young-adult novel published by Glass Page Books.