Beating Around the Bush: How to Break Bad News to Your Client

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One of the terrifying scenarios in the business world is when you have to tell a customer you made a mistake involving their order or account.

This is the sort of thing that keeps any business owner up at night. The worst part is, no matter how thorough you make your review processes, mistakes will slip through the cracks.

Some clients will inevitably take the bad news better than others. The way you deliver the blow, however, often makes just as much of an impact on the customer’s reaction to the news itself. Here are a few tips for how to break the bad news to your client.

 

Be Honest

You should always be honest with your clients. However, when you’ve made a mistake that affects their bottom line, don’t try to sugarcoat it too much. Tell them exactly what’s wrong and how you plan to remedy it.

Part of being honest with the client is not leaving out any details. This will only lead to further anger and frustration down the line if a client later learned you didn’t immediately give them all information about the situation.

You have professional liability insurance for this exact reason—to not have to hide the facts in a really unfortunate scenario. And should leaving out a crucial detail lead to the client sacrificing more of their time or money, you might lose them on the spot. If nothing else, doing this will forever change the way that client views your company.

 

Prepare Solutions Beforehand

As briefly stated in the previous section, the way you’re going to fix the problem is a lot more important to client than the fact it exists.

Sometimes the issue has to do with filing or paperwork, which has one specific workaround. Other times, the problem will be more complex—requiring novel solutions.

In this latter case, you need to bring at least one workable solution to the table the first time you break the news to your client. Even better is if you bring multiple options and ask the client for input as to which one they prefer.

 

Don’t Wait

This is one of the first things a client will ask you upon hearing bad news: “How long have you known about this?” If your answer would make you upset if you were the client, it’s safe to assume the client wouldn’t be too happy.

Timeliness is not the only key to preserving a client’s loyalty to your organization, it can also affect your options. Solutions often only work for a limited time. Just about the only thing worse than telling the client you messed up is telling them you made a mistake, wanted to tell them, and passed up an easy fix as a result. Additionally, telling the client about an issue shortly after it’s discovered will project a degree of competence while reporting an error.

Just about the only thing worse than telling the client you messed up is telling them you made a mistake, wanted to tell them, and passed up an easy fix as a result. Additionally, telling the client about an issue shortly after it’s discovered will project a degree of competence while reporting an error.

Additionally, telling the client about an issue shortly after it’s discovered will project a degree of competence while reporting an error.

 

Frame the Issue from Their Perspective

You can alleviate a lot of the back and forth of delivering bad news simply by approaching it from the vantage point of the customer. Tell the client why they should be upset and what they should expect in terms of a solution. The customer doesn’t care that much about your side of the story. They just want the service they were expecting from your company. Don’t waste their time by telling them too much about your end, as this will just annoy the customer even more. Framing the problem from their perspective can also help to reduce some of the tension of the situation. When the client hears the bad news portrayed in a way compatible with how they might actually respond, they’re more likely to latch onto the narrative you propose than over-exaggerating things.

Tell the client why they should be upset and what they should expect in terms of a solution. The customer doesn’t care that much about your side of the story. They just want the service they were expecting from your company. Don’t waste their time by telling them too much about your end, as this will just annoy the customer even more. Framing the problem from their perspective can also help to reduce some of the tension of the situation. When the client hears the bad news portrayed in a way compatible with how they might actually respond, they’re more likely to latch onto the narrative you propose than over-exaggerating things.

They just want the service they were expecting from your company. Don’t waste their time by telling them too much about your end, as this will just annoy the customer even more. Framing the problem from their perspective can also help to reduce some of the tension of the situation. When the client hears the bad news portrayed in a way compatible with how they might actually respond, they’re more likely to latch onto the narrative you propose than over-exaggerating things.

Framing the problem from their perspective can also help to reduce some of the tension of the situation. When the client hears the bad news portrayed in a way compatible with how they might actually respond, they’re more likely to latch onto the narrative you propose than over-exaggerating things.

Nothing will ever make the process of delivering bad news to customers easy or enjoyable. There are, however, right and wrong things to do in this situation. Follow these guidelines and you will likely mitigate some of the damage caused by the mistake.

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