When you have to tell customers bad news …
As hard as you try, you won’t always be able to tell customers what they want to hear. An item will be out of stock or a delivery date will be impossible to meet, and you’ll have to deliver the bad news to an unhappy—perhaps even irate—customer.
Here are some ways to deliver disappointing information and still keep customers in your corner:
- View the incident as an opportunity to win a customer for life. As odd as it sounds, the most loyal customers are not the ones who receive adequate service. The diehard fans are those customers who run into a problem and are treated very well by a customer service rep.
- Inform them early. Most customers are understanding people, if they know what’s going on. Don’t beat around the bush. Come right out and say “You’re not going to like hearing this, but …”
- Break the news in person or over the telephone, not by email or in a letter. You may want to avoid a confrontation, but the personal touch is critical.
- Explain the situation. If you can offer a sound business reason for the problem, the customer is less likely to walk away unhappy. Example: “I’m sorry we no longer offer home delivery. So few customers were requesting the service that we couldn’t maintain a delivery crew.”
- Offer an alternative. Let the customer know that you’ve tried to come up with a solution to the problem. Example: “We don’t carry that model anymore, but the CR-13 model has many of the same features. Would you like me to review them with you?”
- Ask for their suggestions. If they don’t like the alternative that you’ve offered, encourage them to come up with their own ideas. Example: “Since I can’t offer you that product, what would you suggest?” As they speak, listen attentively and take their comments seriously. You might want to say “Could you speak a little more slowly? I’m jotting down a few notes, and I don’t want to miss anything.” Most customers are impressed when a service provider takes the time to give his full attention.
- Paint your organization in a positive light, despite the trouble. Avoid the temptation to get angry along with the customer. You can sympathize with customers, but don’t take potshots at your organization to make them feel better. Example: Never bad-mouth another department with statements like: “You’re right. Those guys in shipping are terrible.” Better: You’ll calm the customer and maintain your organization’s good reputation if you show that the situation is an exception, not a common occurrence. Example: “The shipping department doesn’t make this kind of mistake often. I’m just sorry that it had to happen with your order.”
- Treat them fairly. Spend some time and even money fostering goodwill. Customers will remember your efforts long after they’ve forgotten the problem.
- Thank customers for their patience and understanding, even if they haven’t been all that patient or understanding. Even the angriest customers want you to treat them with respect. And you can salvage most situations if you’re willing to say: “I know that you’re upset, and you have a right to be. I appreciate the way you’ve handled the whole incident.”
- Let your boss take over. Sometimes, despite your efforts, a customer will be irate. At that point, your best option is to let someone higher up take over. But do so in a way that doesn’t make you seem powerless to the customer, and doesn’t make the customer feel as if you’re passing the buck. Example: “I wish I could help you, but it’s my understanding that we can’t offer refunds under these circumstances. Because you’re such a good customer, I’ll get my boss and let him explain the situation to you. He may be able to answer your questions better than I can.”
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