How to deliver bad news to customers

Challenges will always come up in business dealings, most times a lot of things are out of your control. What’s more important is how you handle these challenges, especially interactions with customers when bad news is involved.

No professional delivers bad news to customers (patients or the family of patients) quite like doctors. Except maybe customer care representatives or marketing experts that are trained and know what to say in what situation. For an entrepreneur or creative with little or no experience delivering bad news to customers, you can take a leaf or two from a doctor’s approach to delivering bad news or handling downright awkward situations.

Four key approaches to delivering bad news with care

According to psychologists, when people put out a verbal message they expect a response. Communication is like a linked chain and not responding destroys or breaks off the chain. When your customers reach out to you on a particular issue and you know your answer isn’t going to go down well with them. Here are four approaches you can adopt to change the news from bad to mildly unpleasant:

1. Be clear and unequivocal

There’s no use being evasive or vague when you can be clear and assertive. Say what you have to say clearly without fearing the backlash. Beating around the bush will make your customer think you have something to hide or raise their hope. Exude confidence and at the same time don’t be mean to them. Stating the facts clearly leaves your customers with zero doubts.

2. Acknowledge their concern

After you’ve delivered bad news to customers, pause to give them time to process it. It shows that you acknowledge and are sensitive to their plight.

You can start off with sentences like, I realise this whole thing is frustrating… I don’t want you to worry, we’ll get to the bottom of this. Put yourself in your customer’s shoes. That way you can don the cloak of empathy that you pass on to your customers.

3. Be open to and encourage questions

When delivering bad news to customers, encourage them to ask questions and don’t be evasive with the answers. Be eloquent and smart at handling questions. Back up your answers with facts that leave customers in no doubt.

You can pave the way for questions by saying “what questions do you have for me?”

4. Offer an alternative

Make sure to be genuine in expressing your thoughts and offer alternatives if there are any. Usually, making a choice between two lesser options is better than no option at all. Of course it’s not all situations that have alternatives. But if it’s available in a situation don’t hesitate to offer it.

Wrong ways to deliver bad news to customers

Most times you can’t control bad news but you can control how you deliver it. Your answer can leave your customers feeling frustrated or angry if you don’t handle the situation correctly. Here are some things to avoid when delivering bad news to customers:

  • Making a customer feel helpless with your insensitive response. When you say something like “there’s nothing I can do”.
  • Showing indifference to their plight. Whether you’re communicating over the phone or face to face, your response does show.
  • Belabouring the point, make your point once and leave it at that, as opposed to sounding like an answering machine by stating the fact over and over again.


When delivering bad news to customers remember to push the positive part forward, and provide factual answers. This increases customer’s credibility and trust in you. It also helps them accept the situation easily and quickly. These approaches work in most if not all situations as long as you’re dealing with a customer that can be reasoned with.

Read our article on how to market your products in 6 easy ways here.

Credit: Myra Golden’s course on LinkedIn learning