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Breaking bad news to customers is not an easy task. You cannot easily sweep it under the carpet or cover it up and hope it goes away. You must address it immediately or suffer the consequences of losing business.

If the problem is big enough to hit the press you will want a good PR firm to help you craft an appropriate news release, but even if it’s only one customer or a group of your customers, you still need to be proactive and communicate it directly to them.

Here are five things I recommend to help you deliver bad news with professionalism and get the results you want:

1. Put yourself in John Smith’s shoes.

Telling customers not to worry won’t work. Focus on the results they want and assure them you are working to make that happen.

You must be specific about what you are doing to remedy the situation, while avoiding details that are negative. This helps them feel you are aligned with them rather than against them.

2. Take full responsibility.

It’s a natural impulse to make the customer aware that it’s not our fault. Blaming suppliers or partners shows you are unable to manage your business, and that you have an unwillingness to take responsibility for customer satisfaction.

People stop buying from companies that don’t take responsibility for satisfying them. You also must resist the temptation to tell the story of how the issue happened, and how complicated it is. The best explanation is short, takes full responsibility, and focuses on next steps.

3. Acknowledge their feelings and manage expectations.

Don’t invalidate their feelings by underplaying how bad the situation is – you have no idea how dependent a customer may be on your product or service. Negative emotions must be dealt with before they can be replaced with a positive plan of action.

What your customer really wants to know is, what are your next steps? So lay it out for them, and be clear. Let them know exactly what they can expect, and when.

4. Take charge.

Outline a specific plan of action that you and your company will take. Assume ownership for the customer’s situation. Reassure the customer that you’re working hard to make things better, both with the immediate issue and longer term.

Tell them how you and your team are working hard to fix the problem quickly. Offer an apology gift like a discount on their next purchase or overnight shipping. Then explain what you’re doing to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

5. Follow through.

Make it your priority to track the progress on the customer’s problem within your company. A heartfelt statement explicitly telling them they’re valued is important. Avoid platitudes like “We value your business.”

Instead, be specific about WHY you value them and how you look forward to a long relationship together.

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Randy Martinsen is the president/CEO of BudgetWorks Inc., a marketing and business consulting firm, and brand partner for Nerium International. He can be reached at 707-206-6443 or randym@budgetworks.net.

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