The 3 Mistakes Most People Make When Giving Customers Bad News

shocked customer service representative

My husband and I were sitting at the big boardroom table at the Closing office. We’d just sold our first home. We were now closing on our new home. But, something went wrong. The bank didn’t transfer the money for the purchase of our new home. 

I called our mortgage broker, who had handled every detail up to this point. I got the Office Manager.“You’re approved. I don’t know why the money wasn’t transferred. It’s now after hours on the East Coast on a holiday weekend.” It was New Year’s eve. “We can’t talk to anybody until after the first of the year.”

Devastated doesn’t even begin to describe how I felt right then. I was in all-out panic mode. I was afraid that we wouldn’t be able to move into our home. I asked to speak to my Broker, and the Office Manager said, “He’s just going to tell you the same thing I’ve told you. Like I said, there’s nothing we can do until after the first of the year.”  

There was no explanation; no concern for this very serious problem, no offer to help – nothing. She just said what she said. And we were left helpless.

This is a good example of how not to deliver bad news to a customer. By the way, after the first of the year, we learned that the bank account number for the wire transfer was incorrect. It was one number off. That’s all it was. And we were able to move into our new home. But not after a long holiday weekend of complete fear!

Things will go wrong and there will be times when there is nothing you can do to help the customer. You can’t control the fact that you have to be the bearer of bad news, but you can control how you deliver the news.

My former mortgage broker got it wrong, as a lot of people do. Here’s how most people get it wrong when they deliver bad news to a customer:

1. Causing a sense of helplessness

A businessman receiving bad news on his phone

More than anything else, customers want help. That’s why they call customer service; it’s why they call a company. When your response is, “There’s nothing I can do” that causes a feeling of helplessness. This feeling of helplessness can lead to customers getting more frustrated or angry, and this makes them harder to deal with. A sense of helplessness is one of the main reasons customers will give up on working with you, and ask to talk to a supervisor. Overcome a sense of helplessness by talking about what you can do or by offering alternatives. Make the customer feel that you’re doing all you possibly can do to help them.

2. Indifference


It’s hard enough to deliver bad news to a customer. But, if a customer thinks you don’t care about their problem; that you are dismissing them, it becomes so much harder for you to work with that customer. In my example, I felt the office manager was indifferent. The problem was catastrophic for us, but I didn’t feel she cared – at all. If your customer thinks you don’t care, they tend to talk or rant more, become more difficult, and escalation is likely. Show genuine concern with a response like, “I realize this whole thing has been frustrating for you.”

3. Belaboring the point

Bored Telephone Worker

I hear this a lot when I’m listening to customer service calls for clients. I think the intent is to get the customer to calm down or to accept the bad news, but it usually is perceived negatively. When you make your point repeatedly, “Ma’am, you have to open a claim online. I cannot open a claim over the phone for you. You have to do this online” you tend to make the customer more upset. Make your point once, like this. “I know this is an extra step you don’t want to have to take, but we have to have an online form completed and signed in order to open up a claim for you.”

If you make one or more of these common mistakes when you deliver bad news to a customer, you’re at risk for losing customer trust or losing the customer. You’re more likely to get a difficult-to-handle response; or the customer may ask to speak to a supervisor.

Avoid these 3 mistakes when you deliver bad news and you’ll instantly be better positioned to deliver bad news in such a way that it’s easier for customers to hear and accept.

Now you can give your representatives even more great skills for delivering the best customer experience and for handling difficult customer situations. Sign up for my email list and learn specific tips, approaches and phrases to help your employees help your customers.

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