Three Ways to Make Bad News Worse

Recently, I was reminded of the statement: “90% of the time, conflict is escalated because of how the message is delivered, not by the message itself.”

There are a number of reasons bad news messaging is delivered poorly so often.

1. We are uncomfortable doing it so try to get it done with as quickly as possible.

Sometimes we put off sharing the bad news.  Other times, we rip the band-aid off to get it out of the way as quickly as possible, and then shut the conversation down as soon as the difficult deed is done.

When delivering bad news to an internal or external customer, allow the person hearing it a chance to respond and to ask questions.   Some of the initial responses may not be pleasant.  Take a deep breath and recognize the emotion, frustration, anger or disappointment, behind the words.

2. We don’t understand what the big deal is.

In the grand scheme of things, sometimes the bad news we are delivering seems pretty trivial.  And perhaps, in the grand scheme of things, it is pretty trivial, but to the person in front of us, it’s not.

We cannot see into the lives of our customers or our co-workers. Not knowing their stories as well as we know our own, means we don’t understand why they are so frustrated, angry or upset.  Just because we don’t understand the why doesn’t mean we can brush off their response with a shrug and “get over it” attitude.

3. We focus on explanation or solution, instead of empathy.

We may know why something happened and we may know exactly what we can do to fix it (or at least have an alternate plan in place), so we rush to fix without offering an apology or acknowledging the impact our bad news had.  Very often the customer simply doesn’t care why it happened.  Why’s sound like excuses.  Listen, apologize, empathize before jumping to fix mode.


Delivering bad news to a customer, a co-worker or an employee is never fun.  The bad news can be as seemingly simple as “We don’t have that available in your size” to “I have no rooms available” to “There is no longer a job here for you.” Whatever the bad news is, honor and respect the other person’s right to their emotion, acknowledge and recognize their pain or disappointment and then focus on finding a solution together.


(Note:  This is an edited repost of a 2013 blog.  I recently had to deliver some bad news and was reminded of the importance of getting past my own discomfort so I could focus on the other person.  It’s not easy, but the end result is better.)

Do You Really Need to Give Away Stuff to Keep a Customer?

“Give them something” is very often the answer to the questions “How can we show our customers we appreciate them?” and “What can we do to get that unhappy customer back?”

How many of your customers need another pen, another golf shirt, another mug or another hat?  How many other logoed items are they receiving from other companies they do business with?

It’s not that all customers hate stuff.  What customers like better than stuff is:

1.  Being treated like an individual person.  Smile.  Acknowledge them.  Offer to help.  Ask for their name and then use it.  Tell them your name.  Work to create a relationship over and above the dollar sign.  Recognize that some customers want to chat, some want to get right down to business.  Adapt your service delivery so that it’s great in their eyes, not yours.

2.  Hearing ‘thank you’.  A sincere thank you is a lot more meaningful than a pen or t-shirt.  Take some time to use that company pen of yours to write and mail a thank you note or a “we’ve missed seeing you” note.  Personalize the notes to that customer.  Use their name and incorporate one other piece of information specific or unique to the individual customer.

3.  You owning your mistakes. Customers don’t expect perfection all the time.  They want it, but don’t necessarily expect it.  What they do expect is recognition and acknowledgement when something does go wrong. They want to be listened to. They want you to understand their disappointment and they want an apology.  Yes, some people may want more than that, but a t-shirt or coupon for 15% off their next visit without empathy, understanding and apology is not enough.  You may  be surprised at how many customers are satisfied with sincere acknowledgement of their concern, an apology and a thank-you for sharing comment.  Those three things are in short supply. Giving them out freely, without reservation, means more than stuff to a whole lot of people.

It’s not that giving away stuff is a bad thing.  Some customers appreciate and expect the freebies, the extra little things they receive from you on an occasional basis.  It’s just not THE answer.   There are a lot of other companies doing that. Become the company your customers would come back to even if you never gave away ‘stuff’.

P.S.  These three tips also apply when discussing internal customer satisfaction strategies.

What to Do When Things go Wrong

Service guarantees that guarantee nothing will go wrong and the customer will always get exactly what was expected, if not more, aren’t guarantees … they are shiny, hopeful wishes.

It would be nice if you could categorically state that each and every time you or one of your team members interacted with a customer the customer would leave thrilled, but the reality is, stuff happens.  Life happens, weather happens, unrealistic expectations happen.

The question isn’t “Can we promise our customers will get exactly what they want, need and expect every single time?” The question is, “When something does go wrong, how will we fix it?”

Example: My husband needed to get a little bodywork done on his car.  Last week Friday, I followed him in my car to the body shop where he was getting the work done.  He dropped his car off, brought me to my office and then he went off to work.  At the end of the day, he picked me up to get his car back.  Just before we left, he called the shop to let them know we were on the way.  That is when he found out the person who was supposed to work on his car had called in sick and nothing had been done.  Was it the owner’s fault his employee go sick?  No.  Life happens.  People get sick.  All the owner had to do was pick up the phone and explain the situation to my husband.  It’s not about fault. It’s about recognizing and apologizing for not being able to deliver as promised. It’s about providing alternatives and suggestions to lessen the disappointment and the negative impact.

In the end, Chad got his car back.  It looks great.  We are both willing to bet there are a lot of other businesses that could have made his car look just as good. The product they offered was acceptable. The service wasn’t.

The chances of one of our cars needing body work in the next little while are slim.  With any luck, no accidents are in our future.  But, when if and when we do need work done, we know where we are not going.  And if anyone asks us for recommendations, that business lost an opportunity for free advertising and promotion from a satisfied customer.

Companies that provide great customer service know things can go wrong. They identify potential service delivery cracks and they put a service recovery plan in place. They train their team members so that when challenges arise, they are prepared to deal with them in such a way that the customer feels their disappointment was recognized, validated and acted on.

Go ahead. Walk through your business.  Identify potential service failures. Talk to your team.  Let them help you come up with more. Then work together to come up with strategies and tactics on how to fix the problem … from the customer’s perspective.



Do You Know Your Service Delivery Cracks?

Service delivery cracks are those areas in a business where customer expectations fall between the cracks.

Every business has them.  It’s important to know what yours are so steps can be taken to fill in the crack or at the very least, reduce the size of the service delivery crack.

For example, some hotels have only one person working at the front desk.  After regular hours, that means the front desk agent is also the housekeeping and maintenance departments.  At some point, during an eight hour shift, the front desk will be unattended.

When a guest arrives at a hotel, the expectation is that there will be someone at the front desk to greet them and check them in.  When a guest arrives to an empty lobby, their expectation is now unmet.  That is a service delivery crack.

Let’s look at two very different ways this service delivery crack can play out.

Scenario 1:

A guest walks into a hotel after a long day of travel.  There is nobody around.  The guest looks for a bell to ring on the front desk.  Nothing.  The guest looks into the breakfast area, walks down the hall, looking for any sign of life.  Nothing. Because it’s late and the guest has a confirmed reservation, she waits. Someone has to come back eventually, right? After a very long six minutes, she notices someone coming down the hall.  The person is in uniform, notices she is there and walks over to the desk.  She goes behind the desk and asks “Name?” The guest provides her name; the agent checks her in, gives her the key and says “You are on the second floor.”  The guest takes her key, drags half her luggage up the stairs and then comes back for the last of it.  The lobby is again unattended; that means the last of her luggage was also unattended.

Scenario 2:

A guest walks into a hotel after a long day of travel. There is nobody around.  The guest notices a sign on the front desk that says “I’m sorry I wasn’t here to welcome you personally.  I’ve stepped away from the desk to assist another guest and will be back shortly.  Please have a seat in the lobby and help yourself to a complimentary cookie.”  The guest sits down and in about six minutes, she notices someone coming down the hall.  The person in uniform notices she is there, and with a friendly smile, says “I’m so sorry to keep you waiting.  I imagine you are ready to get into your room.”  She goes behind the desk, asks for the guest’s name, confirms the details of her stay, gives her the keys and says “Your room is on the second floor.  I see you have quite a bit of luggage.  Let me help you get it to your room.”

In both cases, the lobby was empty when the guest arrived.  Both hotels have the same service delivery crack, but the hotel in the second scenario took steps to reduce the customer’s disappointment.

Take a look at your business from the customer’s point of view and ask yourself the following questions:

  1. What are your customer’s expectations? How long do they expect to wait to be seated, to be greeted or for their food to be served? What type of information do they expect to be available for them?
  2. Where could those expectations be unmet?  If someone calls in sick, how will that impact the customer? Will it take longer for the food to be served or the room to be cleaned?  Will the line up at the till or the information booth be longer?
  3. What can you do to minimize or turn-around that negative moment? Do you let your customers know up front, before they sit down and get comfortable that a favourite item is not available or that the service time may be a little longer than usual today? Do you know what items, if any, you can offer as an alternative?  If you are not able to provide the product or service, do you know who can?

Service delivery cracks, service breakdowns happen.  Spend some time upfront identifying where a customer breakdown could occur and then develop a plan on how to minimize the negative impact.

Your customers don’t care why the service breakdown happened. They don’t want excuses; they want alternatives.  They want you recognize their disappointment and take steps to reduce that disappointment where possible.

Your thoughts?

Feel Good Friday: Two Examples of Great Customer Service

It has been quite the week and what better way to end it than with two stories of companies and service professionals who have gone above and beyond what was expected of them.

Providing a Little Extra

Anyone who wears glasses knows they are not inexpensive and it can be so hard to  know which pair looks better once the obviously wrong choices have been eliminated.  A friend told me about an optometrist she used to go to that helped address that little problem.  At this store, the service team took Polaroid head shots of the customer wearing their top three or four choices so they could look at all their options at once, instead of putting on and taking off while squinting because the demo frames don’t have lenses!  What a simple idea to help ease the “this one or that one” decision making process.

Service Recovery with No Hassle

On January 2nd, I purchased a brand new laptop from Staples.   It was shiny and way better than my other one … or so I thought.  A software program I need to create e-learning courses wouldn’t run.  The laptop refused to communicate with my printer.  One day Outlook worked, the next day it  received emails but refused to send them. My internet connection cut out intermittently. The laptop wouldn’t shut down and then took forever to open.  After two weeks, I packed it up and brought it back to the store. (I don’t know why it took me that long either.)  When I got to the store, there were no excuses, no delays. The tech person on staff immediately indicated that this was a hardware problem and the laptop would either need to be replaced or fixed. Both of these options would have left me without a laptop for a few days; not an option for a solopreneur. So they took my old one back and found me a comparable one in stock.  There was empathy, an apology, a solution and at the end of the day, a discount and more importantly, laptop that worked.

Great customer service doesn’t have to be complicated.  Provide an unexpected touch and when something does go wrong, fix it.

Join me this Feel Good Friday and share a positive service experience you’ve had.    ___________________________________________________________________________________________

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