How to Deliver Bad News to Customers

It’s fun to give a customer good news. It feels nice to know that you’re making someone else happy. But as fulfilling as it is to provide good news, it’s equally as gut-wrenching to deliver bad news. Yet if you’re in the business world long enough, you’ll eventually have to break your share of bad news. How you do it makes all the difference.

5 Tips for Breaking Bad News

Bad news can range from canceling a concert to letting a client know that a huge investment has shriveled up to nothing. Not all bad news is created equal, but it all needs to be approached with a similar degree of intentionality. Here are a few tips you might find helpful:

1. Act Quickly

When it comes to bad news, there’s a tendency to delay the inevitable. This is just human nature. But you have to push past the desire to put it off one more hour or one more day. Just do it!

Acting quickly won’t necessarily help you in the moment, but it does benefit you in the long run. As emotions calm down, your customers will appreciate the fact that you came to them right away. If they discover that you knew about it and shielded them from it for an extended period of time, they’ll become bitter and further inflamed.

2. Choose the Right Medium

How you deliver bad news is just as important as what you say. Choose the right medium, based on the recipient and the situation. The three primary options are:

  • Email. In situations where you have to reach a large number of people right away, email is an effective option. However, it’s preferable that you don’t deliver severe bad news via email. You should restrict it to relatively minor issues.
  • Phone. When you need the delivery to be more personal, you can try the phone. This is a more time-consuming option, but it’s also much more direct.
  • Face-to-face. When there’s a very serious issue, or a trusted and loyal client, face-to-face meetings are preferred. However, these take a lot of time and can be highly emotional. Make sure you recognize this going in.

There are obviously other avenues, but 99 percent of situations will involve one of these three mediums. Choose the mode that will be most effective and respectful to the customer.

3. Deliver a Consistent Message

If you have different members of your team reaching out to different customers, make sure the message is consistent. This is especially important when it comes to making individual phone calls.

“For personal phone calls to your most important constituents, write talking points that can be shared amongst staff or volunteers to quickly spread the word,” MembershipWorks suggests. “You can later convert your talking points into a written event cancellation email that can be shared more broadly.”

4. Let it All Hang Out

If the bad news is something that makes your brand look bad, there’s a temptation to cushion the blow by only telling customers part of the story. However, this is a terrible idea!

Customers will almost always find out the real story in the end. By letting it all out upfront, you prevent the “second wave” of anger and frustration down the road.

5. Frame it With a New Solution

There are very few instances where you should deliver bad news and leave it at that. It’s almost always necessary to offer customers a quick solution.

“Never start with, ‘We can’t do this,’” entrepreneur Benish Shah advises. “Instead, start with, ‘This is what we’re doing, and this is why it’s a better alternative to the one we had originally outlined.’ Clients want solutions, not problems.”

The solution won’t necessarily make the pain or frustration go away. But it will take some of the sting away. At the very least, it shows that you’re trying to do something about it.

Practice Makes Perfect

You’ll never get comfortable with the emotional aspect of delivering bad news, but you can become more confident and intentional with how you do it. For best results, embrace these situations as opportunities to show your customers and clients that you care for them. Make it clear that, even through the disappointment, you want what’s best for them. Over time, this will allow you to build trust that extends far beyond any isolated rough patches.