How to deliver bad news to a customer in a positive way

Office worker woman got bad news by phone. Office woman manager in stress opposite computer. A lot of phone calls in office. Funny face expression, emotions. Feelings problems reaction.

Saying no, or delivering bad news to a customer, is one of the most challenging aspects of working in customer service, particularly in the current environment. As much as delivering a positive customer experience is always the goal of every interaction, there may be times that you may have to say no or deliver bad news to a customer.

This is not easy, particularly when it is in the nature of people who work in customer service to want to make the experience a positive one. Examples of where you may have to say no or deliver bad news include privacy, legal or policy reasons, stock availability, or an inability to provide a service at a desired time. The customer naturally may not be happy when they are advised they are unable to receive what it is they are seeking.

The key is focusing on the way you communicate and deliver the message as this can ultimately have the biggest outcome on how the customer responds or reacts. While they may not be happy with the outcome, what they will be able to focus on is how well the message is communicated.

There are three key steps to saying no or delivering bad news to a customer.

1. Provide options or alternatives

Always explore any other alternatives that are available first. This is always the first and the best thing to present to the customer. Use positive language such as “Another option I have found for you is…” “Here is an alternative that could work”. Always start your conversation with what you can do. The customer will listen more when you begin a conversation with immediate options.

2. Educate the customer 

If you are unable to deliver what the customer is wanting and there are no other options or alternatives available, the focus needs to shift to explaining why. Education is an extremely important component of this step, Use language such as “The reason why…”, “If I can just explain the reason why we are unable to…”. This is an opportunity to fully inform and educate the customer. There can be occasions where the customer may be unaware or uninformed and by giving them information, it can assist them in understanding your position.

3. Show empathy

If you are unable to deliver on what the customer wants, it is still important to empathise with the customer. Use authentic, empathetic language such as “I’m so sorry that there isn’t anything further that we can do at this stage…” or “I have looked at all available options for you and unfortunately we are unable to…”. This can in some way help to provide a connection with the customer. Empathy is one of the most powerful tools you have to demonstrate to the customer that you care and can help to humanise the experience. Even if they are not happy with the actual outcome, they may come to a place of acceptance if you have managed the conversation and interaction well.

Part of providing a positive customer experience is looking at every option and alternative possible or trying to find a way to help the customer.  It is very important to accept that because of various reasons there may be times that you are unable to deliver on what the customer expects. If you can keep focused on how you deliver the message, you will ultimately reduce to the impact to the customer’s reaction and provide the best possible experience you can for your customers.

Monique Richardson, Customer Service expert and author of “Managing Difficult Customer Behaviour – A Practical Guide For Confident Conversations”