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  • Writer's pictureMaryna Paryvai

Deliver Tough News to Customers Like a Pro (With Templates)

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Customers eagerly await their orders in time for holidays, but shipping is delayed. 

An outage results in the loss of user data. 

A booking system malfunctions and sells more rooms than your hotel can accommodate. 

There are countless situations where you might have to deliver bad news to your customers. How you handle these moments can greatly impact customer relationships and the trust you've worked so hard to build.

4 out of 5 customers will forgive you if you can provide great customer service. But only one customer out of five can forgive you if you mess up the communication. 

Here’s how to minimize negative consequences from sharing bad news so you can maintain customer trust, no matter what.

Do’s and don’ts for communicating tough news to customers

There’s no foolproof formula that guarantees your communication will land well. 

That said, there are a few basic steps that can make a massive difference. Not only can they help you avoid damaging your brand reputation, they’ll also help you get closer to retaining the customers that are impacted. 



Take responsibility

Blame others

Offer a solution

Set unrealistic expectations

Be transparent and honest

Be vague

Use positive positioning

User negative language

Follow up and follow through

Leave customers in the dark

Take responsibility

Even if the situation isn't entirely your fault or when you suspect that customer behavior may have played a role, apologizing and taking accountability is essential.

Every other response sounds defensive and dismissive. It’s always better to treat it seriously and assume the issue was caused on your end first. 

When dealing with customers, especially those that are angry, there are always two tokens on the table. One is the token for it just doesn’t matter. It’s not a big deal. And the other token is it’s the end of the world. We pick one, and the customer picks the other.” 

If you react like it’s the end of the world, the customer will always feel like their issue is being taken seriously – so they don’t need to get annoyed to make you take it seriously. 

Always offer a solution

Letting your customer know that they have a problem is not a good ending point for a conversation. That makes it entirely their responsibility to find a solution. 

Not only did you share bad news, you added to their stress and work. 

Instead of just presenting the problem, offer potential solutions or alternatives that can help ease the impact on your customers.

Here’s an example:

Say John calls your bank to book a visit. He arrives at the office at the scheduled time, only to discover that you are unable to locate the booking.

It's possible that John tried to book the visit, but the line was busy and he forgot to call back. But it’s also possible that John did call and your receptionist simply forgot to record the booking. 

Either way, you have a customer standing in front of you expecting an appointment. 

In this case, it doesn’t matter who’s at fault (although you might want to look into that after the fact, to ensure it doesn’t happen again). What will make a difference to John is taking responsibility for the mishap, offering an apology, and providing a solution by offering him assistance right away or suggesting another convenient time for him.

Be transparent and honest

Everyone makes mistakes from time to time. No matter how well-trained or careful you are, avoiding mistakes is impossible. That's okay – and believe it or not, most customers are equally sympathetic, as long as you’re honest with them about it.

For example, if you accidentally double-charged a client, just let them know that there was an error and do what you can to undo it straight away.

Use positive positioning

Negative language often triggers negative emotions. 

When delivering bad news, focus on what you can offer instead of dwelling on what you can't do.

Next time you need to decline a refund request, try this. Instead of simply saying

"We’re unable to provide a refund",

consider something like

"While I can't offer a refund, I'd be more than happy to provide you with a store credit or arrange a call with our technical specialist to address any outstanding issues."

Shifting focus from what you can’t do to alternative solutions makes a massive difference in your customer’s perception of the situation. If nothing else, they’ll see that you’re trying to help them. 

Follow up and follow through

After delivering bad news, be proactive and keep your customers updated. If you’re dealing with a business critical outage, let them know how much progress you’re making and send them some of your postmortem after the fact. 

The Service Recovery Paradox shows that delivering bad news can be an opportunity. 

the service recovery paradox

Having a bad experience can increase customer loyalty, as long as you handle it well. Going the extra mile in these situations means that your customers can see the value of continuing to do business with you. 

5 steps to deliver bad news with grace

These are the five key steps to follow when you’re crafting a response or communication plan:

  1. State what happened

  2. Apologize and show empathy

  3. Explain the reasons behind the issue and the actions taken to address it

  4. Offer a solution or alternative

  5. End with an invitation for further questions or concerns

1. State what happened

Start by explaining why you're reaching out to the customer. Gather all the necessary information to provide a concise overview of what happened and why.

Here are a couple of examples of what that could sound like:

“I'm reaching out because we have, unfortunately, encountered a server issue affecting your account data.”

“I’m sorry to inform you that we are unable to accept your return request due to our 15-day return policy window.”

2. Show empathy

When your customers learn about the problem, they will likely experience a range of negative emotions. This is an important moment to pause, express your apologies and show empathy. Let your customers know that you truly understand their disappointment and concerns.

There is one caveat here. 

“We apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused you.” is a phrase popular among customer support folks. Every time I hear it, it reminds me of such a relatable story my manager shared a year ago. It has stuck with me ever since.

the wrong way to apologize

Rachel Stanley, VP of Customer Experience at Banzai

Be careful with using the word ‘maybe’ in your communication when you are already aware that the problem has caused inconvenience to your customers. 

These are empathetic statements you can use instead:

“We completely understand that this isn’t the experience you expected and deserved. On behalf of the entire team, please accept our sincere apologies for the inconvenience caused.”

"I understand how frustrating it is. This definitely isn’t the experience we strive to provide to our customers, and we apologize for any trouble this has caused.”

3. Explain the root cause and actions taken to address it

Then explain why the issue happened and what measures your team is taking to improve the service and prevent a recurrence.

Finding the right balance is key – you want to provide enough information to show that you take the issue seriously and have thoroughly investigated it, without overwhelming your customers with irrelevant details. 

4. Provide a solution

Now that customers know what happened, they expect a solution. Ideally, you're already working on resolving the problem and can communicate the upcoming solution along with a timeline.

If that isn’t the case, state the options your customers have. These could be a refund, credit, additional discount, or assistance with migrating to another tool. Put yourself in your customers' shoes and think about the solution you would appreciate in such a situation.

But be realistic with the things you offer – it's always better to underpromise and overdeliver rather than set unrealistic expectations that you may not be able to meet.

5. Wrap up with an open invitation

As you bring your communication to a close, make sure to leave the door open for any follow-up questions or concerns your customers may have. Show your eagerness to help and address any additional feedback.

For example, you can say: "Please don't hesitate to reach out if you have any further questions or concerns. We truly appreciate your feedback and are committed to making things right."

Templates for common issues

Communicating bad news effectively requires honesty, transparency, and empathy. 

Below are a few examples of effective communication for common issues that you can adapt to your situation. 

Server outage

Hey Nelly,

Jane from ABC here. I wanted to personally reach out to inform you about an issue with your account. We recently experienced a server outage that has affected the data saved on your account on January 5th, 2024 between 3 AM and 5 AM.

We completely understand that losing any account data is very frustrating. On behalf of the entire team, we're incredibly sorry for the trouble!

As soon as we became aware of the incident, we immediately launched an investigation and implemented a fix addressing the root problem (internal system error) so it doesn’t occur again. We also took measures to enhance the stability of our systems moving forward. The team is working to recover any missing data as we speak and I’ll send a separate update on this by the end of the week.

In the meantime, we have added 1 month of credit to your account on us. You will be able to continue using our platform completely free, as we work to repair your trust.

If you’d like to share any concerns or have questions, we are all ears. We value your feedback and are here to support you.



Shipping delay

Hi Bella,

Jane from XYZ here. I'm reaching out as we have, unfortunately, encountered an unexpected delay in the delivery of your order.

Our team has been working diligently to fulfill all orders, but due to unforeseen issues in the supply chain, we’re experiencing a delay affecting some deliveries, including yours.

We understand the significance of timely deliveries and apologize for the trouble. Our team is actively working with the shipping service provider to expedite the shipment, and we expect the package to reach your door within the next few days.

As a gesture of goodwill, we have issued a refund of the shipping cost for the inconvenience caused.

We deeply appreciate your patience as we work to resolve this issue. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to reach out.

Best regards,


No-refund policy

Hi Stuart,

I'm genuinely sorry to hear that our service fell short of your expectations.

While our sales are final and I’m unable to offer a refund (please see our terms and conditions here), I can provide you with a credit that you can use for future transactions.

I understand that this may not be the response you were hoping for, and I apologize that we can't fulfill the refund request.

To ensure you get the most value from our service, I'd like to extend an offer for a call with our customer success manager. If you could take a moment to share more details about your needs, I'll discuss them with our team and provide you with our best advice regarding the next steps.

Looking forward to hearing from you!

Thank you,


Put customers first in your communication

Things might not always go according to plan but great communication can turn the situation around. 

Each time this happens, it’s an opportunity for you to rebuild trust and strengthen your relationship with your customers by taking a proactive approach and prioritizing their needs.

At Swifteq, we know that every interaction is a chance to win a customer over – and having access to the right tools can make all the difference. 

We offer a range of automation, help center and AI agent-assist apps that help customer support teams on Zendesk do more with less. 

Book a free demo today to take your customer experience to the next level.


Maryna Paryvai

Written by Maryna Paryvai

Maryna is a results-driven CX executive on a mission to champion efficient and human-centric customer support. With a deep-rooted passion for well-structured documentation, she firmly believes that exceptional customer experiences lie at the heart of every successful business.


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