Delivering Bad News to Your Customers

Sometimes, there’s truly nothing you can do. No one likes hearing bad news, and no one likes delivering it, least of all dedicated customer support agents who want to make every consumer interaction a great one. But just because you can’t help your customer, it doesn’t mean you can’t maintain a standard of excellent customer service, whatever the situation. 

Here’s everything you need to know about delivering bad news to your customer. 

How Not to Deliver Bad News

Don’t make it worse. There is a right and a wrong way to deliver bad news to your consumers, and it is unfortunately astoundingly easy to make bad news even worse news if disclosed poorly or improperly. 

How many times have you received bad news from a company, expressed callously, with little explanation and no solutions?

For example: “Dear Miss Doe, we regret to inform you that due to unforeseen issues, your product will take longer to deliver. We will contact you when we know more. Sincerely, Company Z.”

While messages like this tick the first box of consumer problem-solving, alerting your customers to the fact that there is a problem, they fail to help affected customers understand precisely how they are affected by the problem, along with an appropriate explanation and prognosis of the issue at hand. 

Customers don’t like being left in the dark, and if your company is not forthcoming with details and solutions, you risk the loss of both your customers, and a stellar reputation.

Done right, however, delivery of bad news will impress your customers and keep them returning again and again, even in times of crisis. In the next section, we’ll show you how it’s done. 

Best Practices for Delivering Bad News to Your Customers

  • Be transparent. By this we mean, never pretend that no problems can or will arise from your product. Customers are usually pretty understanding about delivery issues, as long as they are addressed with the appropriate amount of time and effort, but let them know anyway about any potential or expected problems. Your customers will appreciate your candor.
  • Be upfront and on-time. Your customers should know almost immediately after you do that there’s a problem. Your company must never leave the consumer to discover the issue on their own. When delivering bad news, expect to tell your customers what the problem is, what you’re doing to address the issue, and how long you expect it to take. Updates should be delivered promptly, even if it’s more bad news.
  • Exercise empathy. Your customers may be understandably upset upon receiving bad news. And it is the responsibility of every customer support agent to meet the consumer where they are with compassion and understanding. Do your best to foster a sense of understanding and togetherness in your customer: let them know that you genuinely care about how this bad news may be affecting them. Done successfully, your customer will come out of your conversation feeling personally cared for and helped.
  • Choose your communication method wisely. How you communicate bad news to your customer will significantly affect what it feels like to receive it. A generic email blasted out to hundreds of customers with no personalization other than a name might tell the consumer that you don’t care about them. Whenever possible, face-to-face interactions and phone calls are the preferred method of delivering bad news, as they allow you to have a sympathetic and human conversation with your loyal customer. We get that this may not be possible at scale. So, make sure to “amp” up the personalization when you send emails to customers.
  • Be honest. Never hide details from your customers, and never let them think that the problem is any less significant than it truly is. It can be tempting to keep your customers happy and oblivious by omitting details. All this does is delay the inevitable. And if your customers discover that your company has been withholding valuable and prudent information from them, you risk losing their trust, and their loyalty. Within the bounds of legality, always provide your customers with the whole truth.
  • Come prepared with solutions. Your company must come prepared with solutions, and a transparent statement about how you are going about addressing the issue. Nothing is more disheartening than receiving bad news with no follow-up of how the issue is being solved. Show up with a plan-of-action to inspire confidence in your customers that you and your team are in fact doing something about it.
  • Leave room for questions. There’s no way to know precisely how your consumers are being affected by the issue in their daily lives, and they might come to you with enquiries for which you had no prepared answers. To provide a truly excellent customer experience, even through bad news, you must always let your customers do what they need to do to secure their own peace of mind. 

Final Thoughts: Delivering Bad News to Your Customers

Some days it can’t be helped, and you have to deliver bad news to a customer. But done correctly and with the proper amount of disclosure and empathy, you can still give your customer a great support experience. 

Check out our other post, Empathy Exercises for Customer Service, for more ideas on delivering excellent customer support, even when the news isn’t good.

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