Difficult Letter #2: Refusing a Request
An HSBC customer in Canada has read
a copy of HSBC's Premier Magazine at the home of a friend. She liked it so much
that she requested the Bank to send the magazine to her home. HSBC, however,
only sends this magazine to its Premier customers.
One of your staff has drafted a reply for you.
THE FIRST DRAFT
Evaluate the tone of the first draft, which is printed
16 March 200X
Ontario L4S 1S1
Dear Ms Davis
Thank you for your letter requesting a copy of our
Unfortunately, we are unable to grant your
You see, we send this magazine only to our Premier
Please accept our apologies.
Would you send this letter to your
Write your comments on a piece of paper. Then, compare
your comments with the evaluation below.
THE FIRST DRAFT - EVALUATION
The letter is quite courteous. The writer has used
"magic words" to be polite and pronouns to be personal. The
writer also has tried to be positive by stating what we CAN do, ie "send the
magazine only to our Premier customers".
However, the customer would probably be unhappy after
reading this letter. Why? Because the writer said "no" rather
How, then, can you break the news gently? In other words,
how can you politely refuse a customer's request?
IMPROVING THE DRAFT
How could you improve the draft?
Write your ideas on a piece of paper. Then compare your
ideas with some suggestions.
You should begin as the writer did, ie with a
neutral sentence (eg "Thank you for ..."). You should then add a sentence
complimenting the customer (eg "We are pleased that you are interested in
this publication."). Or, if the customer has problems, you could express
empathy (eg "I understand that you ...").
Next, you should pave the way for the refusal. In
other words, you should give the reasons for refusing the request first.
When giving reasons, you should not mention "bank policy", which means
very little to the reader. Then, you can conclude the paragraph with the
Before closing the letter politely, you should
suggest - if possible -- an alternative to what the customer has
requested. Such an offer will show that you value the
IMPROVING THE DRAFT - APPROPRIATE PATTERN
How do you structure the contents when you need to refuse
a customer's request?
In the table below, the pattern for refusing a customer's
request is incomplete. You need to complete it.
Pattern for refusing a customer's request
1) Pleasant introduction,
complimenting or empathising with the customer
5) Polite close, with offer of help
2) Reasons for the refusal
4) Alternative suggestion (if
REVISING THE DRAFT
Now try revising the draft prepared by a member of your
To do this, you will need
prepared by your staff member
appropriate pattern for refusing a customer's request
a pen and a
piece of paper.
REVISING THE DRAFT – EXAMPLE
16 March 200X
Dear Ms Davis
Thank you for your letter requesting HSBC's Premier
Magazine. I am delighted to learn that you are interested in this
As an HSBC customer, you may have heard about
Premier, our personal banking service. One of Premier's many benefits is a
free subscription to Premier Magazine. I'm afraid that, since you do not
yet have a Premier account, we are unable to send you this
However, I would like to take this opportunity to
invite you to become one of our Premier customers. You only need to
maintain a minimum balance of CAD50,000 to experience this special
service. I have enclosed a brochure which provides additional
If you would like to enjoy all the benefits of our
Premier service (including the magazine), please visit any HSBC branch. We
will be happy to help you apply.
I hope this information is helpful and look forward
to hearing from you.
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