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How to Deliver Bad News to Your Customers Professionally

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How to Deliver Bad News to Your Customers Professionally

As a Small Business owner, communicating, no, or telling a customer what you know they don’t want to hear, is often left up to you or if it is another team member’s responsibility, you must be prepared for the customer who wants to speak to the manager.

We know that it’s not possible to please every customer all the time and because humans make mistakes, you need the skills to deliver bad news in a way that leaves both you and your customers, feeling valued and respected.

Telling customers bad news is never fun, but I know from experience and research and from writing my book The A – Z of Service Excellence, that confidence in these situations only comes from practising a positive process.

Here is my 4-step process to help you deliver bad news like a professional:  

1. Turn on your empathy.

Not all customers will have the same behavioural response to bad news so don’t treat all customers the same. Some customers may respond with anger, others may need time to absorb the information, others will ask lots of questions, and some will sense your unease and listen calmly. Instead of spending hours worrying about how the customer will respond, stop procrastinating, start the conversation and move on to step 2.

2. Listen without interrupting. 

Whatever the response, let the customer express their feelings. Avoid interrupting as this can upset the customer further. Listen with the intent to understand; not to judge. Use encouraging and positive body language and take notes of your customer’s concerns and feelings (either written or mental) as you are going to need them for step 3.

3. Acknowledge what you heard.

Once the customer has expressed their feelings and their concerns, paraphrase what you have heard: “I understand this has made you feel annoyed/frustrated/disappointed and this is going to affect your family/friends/plans/outcomes.” Use their examples not some generic response. When we paraphrase we confirm that we listened and care about their situation, so much so that you can now move to step 4.

4. Offer support/solutions.

Now is the time you can talk alternatives or solutions but make sure they are matched to the specific needs of your customer. Often your solutions will be the same for every customer but show you care by confirming how that solution will help their individual situation. It may still be less than what the customer wants, but it conveys respect.

Upset or angry customers can make us want to defend ourselves and the business, and if we made a mistake, we can over apologise and make promises we can’t keep. None of this is good for the customer, the business or you.

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