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How to Tell a Customer Bad News

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How to Tell a Customer Bad News

When I was working in a Bank I used to have a P Pile. It was a pile of files that sat in the corner of my desk and it was all the things I least liked doing. It was the activities I used to Procrastinate about and at the top of the list of things I least liked doing, was to contact customers and advise them that their loans had been declined.

I loathed ringing people to say “Sorry, you can’t have that home loan or personal loan.” No customer ever was thankful to receive that call and many became angry and would abuse me for wasting their time, destroying their dreams and so on and so on.

Telling customers bad news about their loans was never fun and always left me feeling drained and wondering if I was in the right job. (I wasn’t, but that’s another story)

We all know that it’s impossible to please every customer all the time and humans make mistakes, so to survive in any business, we need the skills to deliver bad news that leaves both you and your customers, feeling valued and respected.

4 Steps to delivering 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 quickly respond with anger, others may need time to absorb the information, others will ask lots of questions and some will sense your unease and work with you calmly to solve the issue. Instead of spending hours worrying about how the customer will respond, stop procrastinating, make the call 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. Take notes of your customers 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/angry/disappointed and this is going to affect your family/friends/plans/outcomes”. Use their examples not some generic ‘poor you’ response. When you repeat back to an upset customer what they have said, this confirms you were listening and that you 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 situation. It may still be less than what the customer wants but it conveys respect and that you want to help.

Upset or angry customers can make us feel like speaking up and strongly defending ourselves and our business decisions or if the mistake was ours, over apologising and making further promises you can’t keep. None of this is good for business.

The best thing you can do for customers when communicating bad news is to take the LEAD; Listen, Empathise and Acknowledge before you Deliver a solution.

Upset customers often need a bit of time to calm their negative feelings and they will do this by venting their frustrations to you. If you interrupt that venting you risk the customer thinking of you personally as annoying and this just adds to the problem.

Take the LEAD and you will increase the chance of upset customers apologising for their difficult behaviours and thanking you for your patience and solutions.

For more help with delivering bad news to customers, Chapter H in my Book “The A – Z of Service Excellence” is about Handling Complaints and Chapter V is for Venting. Both Chapters are packed with practical tips to help you feel as valued and respected as you make your customers feel.

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