Don't Give Bad News In Email Like This

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I got bad news from a company, and it was delivered over email. I’m going to share with you the actual email I received, but I’ll leave out any identifying information.


The subject of the email read “Reward Points Denied.”


Dear Myra,

I regret to inform you that your request for Reward points has been denied. While you initially booked the hotel on our website, the hotel canceled your reservation. You state that the hotel rebooked you through their system. Though you may have stayed at the hotel, because your travel plans were altered, you did not earn Reward Points. 


This email has lots of problems. First, the bad news is mentioned right away in the subject line and again in the first sentence. When I read it, my first reaction was shock and then anger.


Don't do it this way when you deliver bad news to customers over email. You want to start your email out politely. The bad news is not what you lead with. And when you do deliver the bad news, you must present it from the customer’s perspective - acknowledging their concerns. Throughout the email, you must focus on your customer’s reaction to the bad news. 


First, I want you to Start your email out politely and professionally. Never go right into the bad news, and don’t make the bad news your subject line. In my example, the subject might be “Reward Points.” 


The email could have started something like this:


“Thank you for being a loyal member of our Rewards Program.”


Next, clearly state the bad news or any decision you are making for the customer, and always explain the reason behind your decision. Here’s an example.


“We’ve reviewed your hotel stay, and it looks like the hotel canceled the reservation you initially made. When they canceled the reservation, that canceled your hotel reward points.”


Doesn’t that sound nicer than, “I regret to inform you that your request has been denied”?


Next, acknowledge customer concern, being very mindful of the reaction the customer will likely have to your news. In the example we’re using, my concerns as the customer was that I would not get the points I felt I earned. Here’s how the company could have acknowledged my concern:


“You explained that the hotel rebooked your reservation due to a problem they experienced. If we can get confirmation from the hotel of your stay and a note explaining the problem they encountered, we can go back in and give you your points. We’ll just you need you to reach out to the hotel to have them send us these details in writing.”


Finally, Be open to answering questions. Be careful to avoid making the email feel like a dead-end. Here’s an excellent way to end the email with a sense of openness to further dialogue:


“We look forward to reviewing any details you can get from the hotel. Please reply to this email or call me with any questions.”


One final tip - make your message easy to read throughout your email by keeping sentences short - no more than 15 - 20 words is a great rule to follow.


When you have to deliver bad news over email, start politely and clearly stating the news or your decision, always providing a reason for your conclusion. Be mindful of the reaction your customer is likely to have to the news and address this concern. Be open to questions by inviting your customer to reply or call. When you do these things, your customers will have a better attitude toward the lousy news despite the letdown.


Continue the Conversation With Me?

For more help giving bad news to customers, check out my LinkedIn Learning course: Delivering Bad News to Customers. 


Prepare yourself emotionally to give customers bad news from Delivering Bad News to a Customer by Myra Golden

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