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8 tips on the difficult art of telling bad news to your customers

Sometimes things happen that shouldn't happen. Something goes wrong and you can't deliver as you promised. You know that the customer will get angry and you mourn over the phone call you need to make. Ideally, you would like to bury your head in the sand and hope that the storm blows over in a minute. That's the dumbest thing you can do.

Here are 8 tips on how you can tell us things that are not so fun to tell:

1. Warn in advance
If you know that a delivery will be late, tell the customer as soon as YOU know this, not a day before the expected delivery (or a day after it was supposed to be delivered).

2. Take responsibility for what has happened
Don't blame other people. Even though it was ”Bob at the Sales Department” who promised a little too much, take that discussion with him later, but do what you can to make things up for the customer now.

3. Tell the good news first
When you have good and bad news - tell the good news first. If you start with the bad news, it tends to overshadow the good news.

4. Empathy
Show the customer that you really care about the problem. Don't just use the old ”I'm sorry”-phrase. Show that you really care about what has happened. Ask about the consequences. Ask how you can help and make the situation better.

5. Use your voice
Lower your voice when giving bad news. You don't want to seem happy about what has happened, but rather worried. Be sincere. Show your customer that you take the mishap seriously. Your customers will then know that you mean what you say.

6. Skip the policy
Don't talk about something that is ”policy.” The only thing you're saying, is that you belong to a rigid and impossible organization. Instead you should tell people why the problem occurred and what you will do about it. It's possible that you don't have a policy of giving things away for free if a delivery is delayed, but never close the opportunity of a further discussion with such an expression. The customer will only get angry. Be flexible. Be kind!

7. Turn the negative into something positive
Instead of saying that “your order will not arrive until Thursday”, say: “You order will arrive already on Thursday.”

8. Follow up
Make sure to follow up on a customer's problem. How did it go? Is he/she happy with the replacement product? Show that you care so the customer knows that you have done everything you can. It may feel easier to pretend as if nothing happened, but that only makes the customer loses confidence in you.

About the author

Stefan Ekberg has worked in marketing for small business for 20 years and has written around 30 books on how small business owners can market themselves with limited resources. . In 2012 Stefan was nominated as Entrepreneur of the Year in Stockholm.

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