How to Break Bad News to a Customer

There’s a 100% chance that you will not deliver the expected value to a customer at some point. Ideally, not very often and not in a way that you can’t make right. But it will definitely happen. Here are a few things to keep in mind when it does.

  1. Get in touch with them immediately. Don’t sit on it. Once you know there’s a problem and you have gathered the necessary information, contact them ASAP. Don’t dilly dally. Don’t procrastinate. Rip the band-aid off. Quickly.
  2. Admit that it sucks. Shitty circumstances feel shitty. Make sure they know that you know this is true. They should never feel like you’re trying to talk them into thinking the situation isn’t as bad as they feel it is. It’s not your job to tell them how to feel about it. It’s your job to fix it and make it right.
  3. Take ownership. Whether or not you were directly responsible for the predicament or not, the outcome is ultimately your responsibility. Make that clear. Don’t list off excuses.
  4. Make it clear what you’re doing to solve it. Tell them exactly what you’re doing to improve the situation now and what the next steps are. After the initial bad news is given, what comes next should be made explicitly clear multiple times. Both during an initial phone call and a follow-up email reiterating specifics.
  5. Be optimistic and confident in your tone. You’re in a rough situation, but you’re in it together and you are going to do everything in your power to improve it. Contrition only goes so far. You should not be giving off any vibes of panic. Their confidence should increase from the time you first broke the news to the end of the conversation. These things happen and you know how to deal with them.
  6. Fix it. Bust your ass to make up for the lack of value delivered. This is an opportunity to strengthen the relationship.