Question: Sometimes we have to deliver bad news to customers—deliveries will be late, products backordered, mistakes or misunderstandings have to be cleared up. What’s the best way to approach this situation? What should I say, and how do I handle things if the customer gets upset?
Answer: The best way to deliver bad news to your customers is to be prepared. First, you need to know exactly what you can offer for restitution. Things like free services for a month, future discounts, or a credit to their account. But be sure you don’t promise something you can’t deliver, as that would compound the problem.
When you deliver bad news to a customer, acknowledge the error, take responsibility for the situation, and then apologize. Empathize with the customer for the inconvenience the situation has caused, and listen to what she has to say about it. You may need to apologize again. Next, state what you can do or have done to correct the situation. Better yet, offer more than one solution and let the customer pick one.
Once you come to an agreement on what you are going to do, repeat back to the customer the steps you are going to take. This will tell her what to expect and ensure you both understand what is going to be done. Finally, make sure the steps you take don’t hit any snags. Follow up on your actions to ensure that the problem is resolved and everything was processed correctly.
Tracey Fulkerson, U.S. Postal Service