3 Tips to Deliver Difficult News

Customers today value honesty, transparency, and authenticity. (If you need further convincing, check out this post on Forbes: Why You Should Be Radically Transparent With Your Customers.) While we would love to live in a world in which nothing that might make people upset ever happens, the reality is that controversial or bad news is unavoidable. And, as a marketer to a constituency that values your honesty, it means that part of your job is to communicate about the bad (price increases, backordered products, an event occurs that makes it impossible to deliver what you’ve promised, or even just a change in how you normally run things,) as well as the good.

Delivering controversial or bad news to customers isn’t fun or necessarily easy, but it is critical in order to establish a trusting relationship. You can’t have a real connection with your clients and followers unless you are straightforward when it comes to something they might not like.

Over the years, I’ve learned some trust-building techniques when it comes to delivering difficult news to customers. And, because I like you so much, I’m going to share them with you!

3 Tips to Deliver Difficult News:

1.     Be Brief

There are two main reasons you want to be brief in your initial communication. First, you might not have all the details. You don’t want to say something in your email that turns out to be untrue later because it can look like you are backtracking or trying to cover something up.

The second is that, while some people may care deeply about the change, chances are that most of your customers will simply read the notice and move on. They don’t need all the details of how and why it happened. You don’t want to write an elaborate explanation that can cause even further frustrated feelings when you can simply state the change and have the majority of people accept the statement without needing a lengthy explanation.  

2.     Be Direct

Don’t beat around the bush. Your customers are smart. This is not the time to sugar coat things or try to hide the bad news inside a paragraph of good news. Don’t make your notice sound like doomsday, but do be up front and forward about it. Tell them you value the relationship and will always be transparent with them and deliver the news you need to communicate in as clear of terms as possible. They will appreciate your approach. (This goes back to the Golden Rule, treat others as you would want to be treated.) Try to write your communication as if you were talking to a close friend. That is, after all, the relationship you want with your customers.

3.     Keep the details out of the email and onto your website

This ties in with #1 and #2. In order to be brief and direct, you should keep the majority of the details on your website and out of your email. Why? Because often times with bad news, controversial topics, or changes to your operations that might upset some folks, the details can change.

You don’t want to write something in an email that customers then can go back to if the procedure or circumstances might be different in a few hours, days, or weeks. If you don’t know already, (haha) most people aren’t great at reading emails. They skim. They delete before opening. They forget.

So, if they open your initial email and it says one thing, they might save that, then delete your next two emails that change the details you originally sent in your first email. Don’t put the details there.

Put the details on your website where you can control them and update the webpage as often as possible to keep the information accurate and up to date. Let people know that for further information and updates, they can find it on your site and provide a link. Then, be very good about updating your website.

Sometimes people struggle with change, and that’s OK. If you are direct, brief, and provide details and updates on your website, you’ll be able to establish trust with your customers and keep them informed as you would with a close friend.

Bad or controversial news delivery is an opportunity to show your customers how much you truly value them. It is during times of difficulty or strife that we truly have the chance to show people who we are.

I hope you enjoyed this post! If you’re still itching for tips, you might want to check out my previous post: Oops! How to Handle Mistakes. In that post, I give you 5 tips for handling communication when things have gone wrong.

Have you dealt with delivering difficult news as a company or organization? Let me know in the comments!

Thank you for reading! 

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