How To Deliver Bad News To A Customer

Posted: 07/02/2014

7 tips for handling sticky situations

Ideally, nothing would ever go wrong in the world of sales. However, inevitably it does; from supply delays to product faults, there will always be problems that a faithful customer services representative has to calmly resolve. In the world of sales, it’s impossible for all transactions to be smooth and efficient, so it’s important to be prepared for the worst.

We know how to deliver good customer service, but how should we make the most of uncomfortable or awkward conversations with customers? It’s all in the communication. Customers may not necessarily be happy, polite or understanding, but both the customer service provider and the customer have the same goal in mind: solving the problem as soon as possible.

  1. Act fast.

Tell the customer that something hasn’t quite worked out as soon as possible. Procrastination is never a good idea and is more likely to annoy or upset the customer. If they contact you to notify you of the problem, deal with them immediately and give them your time. Make sure they feel valued, and that you’re on top of things. 

  1. Commit to the customer. 

It may be easier to put off the problem, hand it to someone else if you get busy, or avoid making phone contact. However, verbal communication is always faster than emails and shows the customer that you are taking the time to keep them updated. Write everything down, remember what’s been said and track the process.

Furthermore, there is nothing worse than a customer chasing up their problem within your company and having to speak to a different person each time. They should only ever have to explain a problem once, and the customer services representative must fully take this on and keep them updated on the progress, rather than waiting for customers to keep calling.

  1. Work with the customer.

Part of committing to the customer is sharing the stress and burden of things going wrong. Treat this issue as ‘our’ problem, rather than ‘your’ problem. Customers need to rest assured that you’re on top of everything, and fully understand the inconvenience this may have caused to them. The last thing they want is to feel isolated! Using words such as “we” and “our” is key to this.

  1. Show you care (and understand).

This comes from asking questions. Make sure you get a full picture of the customer’s needs; clarify and confirm all the details of the situation, and make sure you also keep them fully informed of what you’re doing to resolve their problem. Ask questions about the impact of this issue, how it may affect timescales and deadlines; in essence, use as many questions as you can to demonstrate your empathy.

  1. Focus on the positives.

Instead of saying what you can’t do, say what you can do and what you have already done. Make up for your inability to change things by adding extra value. Either way, make it clear to the customer that you are actively working on the situation. There is nothing worse than speaking to a customer services representative who appears utterly powerless. You find yourself saying “Is there nothing that you can do?” and demanding to speak to people higher up in the chain of authority. This is frustrating, time-consuming and isolating for the customer.

Use phrases such as “What I can do…”

“I will make sure to…”

“Please let me know if there is anything else I can do”

Where, as mentioned earlier, the problem is shared between the provider and customer, the onus is on customer services to do all the leg work in fixing the issue. This shows that you are taking responsibility for the problem, which is one of the more reassuring things the customer can hear. The most unprofessional thing to do when something goes wrong is to start blaming others, or to start with disempowering negatives such as “I can’t….” or “It’s not possible…”.

  1. Think outside the box.

Stretch your mind to see what is possible and how you can creatively solve the situation. If you don’t normally do something, but could make an exception for the customer, this will make them feel like you’re going out of your way to assist them.

If there are complications further along a supply chain, or something has gone missing or got lost, excellent customer service personnel or sales people will always go beyond customer expectations to appease their clients. Depending on the situation, this could be a matter of discount, free delivery or an extra product thrown in.  Ensure that you’ve listened to the customer, understand what their pressures and problems are and, apologise for things going wrong through your actions as well as your words.

  1. Tone of voice.

When speaking on the phone (or in email messages), tone of voice is 50% of communication. Be warm, understanding and calm. Ideally, the customer will eventually mirror this, and you can productively work together to solve the issue.

This also includes not talking too much. Although you will need to give explanations, it’s also important not to interrupt or talk over the customer, or dismiss what they’re saying. If they feel like they’re being heard, then the overall situation is already better. This makes your job slightly easier, but also shows that the company is willing to listen and interact with customers.

Resolving customer problems is never easy, but it can be made more difficult than necessary if approached the wrong way. With these seven tips, your customer relations may just ease that little bit more and instead of the customer thinking “I’m never going back to them”, they may think “If anything goes wrong, I know they can handle it”.

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