Making a molehill out of a mountain: delivering bad news in a good way

Chris Chamberlain, financial expert at Quadient

Of all the things people want to avoid at all costs, delivering bad news has to be near the top of the list

In fact, studies have shown that some managers delivering really bad news have even gone on to experience physical and emotional troubles. Unfortunately for businesses, however, there is no way of getting out of giving bad news to a customer from time to time. This could be anything from telling them that the introduction of stricter criteria means they’re no longer eligible for a loan, or that a cashback reward for using your debit card at certain stores has been removed – whatever the news, it never gets easier. And to make things worse, in this scenario, businesses will lose customers unless they can deliver the news in the best way – so it is imperative that a business gets it right and makes the most out of having the conversation.

In many cases a business could be tempted to send a letter and hope for the best, but when more than three quarters of European consumers say they will switch from a business that doesn’t meet their expectations, more effort needs to be made to keep the customer onside. When there is no other choice than to share bad news with a customer, businesses need to find a way to make a molehill out of a mountain. To turn a piece of bad news into something that doesn’t actually seem like a big deal for customers, there are three things businesses should look at, namely:

  1. Communicating in the right way:

Let’s take as an example, an insurer which needs to communicate that it is increasing its customers’ premiums. If the insurer only lets the customer know about these changes by letter, after said customer has previously stated they only want to be contacted via email, the wrong steps are being taken to keep consumers happy. This approach could result in the customer venting frustration across social media, turning away potential prospects; or worse, taking their business to a competitor. To avoid this and take some of the right steps to keeping the customer happy, the insurance provider needs to ensure it is communicating with customers over the right channel dependent on preference, whether this be through an app, email, landline telephone or letter.

  1. Being clear and having a conversation: 

When it comes to communicating the message, it is imperative that businesses are clear and able to have a conversation with their customer, explaining exactly what the news and any changes will mean for them. This does not simply mean reciting terms and conditions, filled with jargon and technical language, but being transparent and using plain English. Last year the Bank of England increased interest rates for the first time in more than a decade, and then increased the rates again just the other week. The increase in rates will mean those with mortgages will find themselves paying much more now and in the future. If a bank takes the time to really explain what the increase in interest rates will mean for customers, it will be able to open conversation about how the bank can help manage these changes. This approach will not only benefit the customer, but the business too.

  1. Providing the customer with a solution:

By having a conversation, a business has an opportunity to provide a solution which could help mitigate the bad news. For example, the banks we discussed earlier could suggest to homeowners with a tracker mortgage that they would be better suited to a fixed rate mortgage, so they don’t feel the sudden impact of increased interest rates. Insurance providers, meanwhile, could tell customers how a black box could reduce costs if they drive safely, while giving them more control of their premiums. If a company is able to suggest additional products which will benefit the consumer, it will go a long way in showing that they’re not just a number – but a valued customer. This is especially important when turning bad news into an opportunity to provide excellent customer service.

Take the opportunity and get it right

Having to give bad news is unfortunately an everyday fact of life, which can’t be avoided. Businesses should act positively, setting out to make a molehill out of a mountain, attempting to turn the bad news into something that isn’t as significant. This will position companies as reliable providers that care for customers, rather than just the bearers of bad news. This may seem drastic, but in reality, all businesses need to do is communicate over a channel that suits the customer, outlining exactly what the news will mean for them in clear language. On top of this, there could also be a chance to upsell or suggest products that will sugarcoat the bad news and benefit the customer in long run. By taking these steps, businesses can rest easy from knowing they have done everything possible to keep their customers happy – even at the most difficult of times.