It's always a pleasure to give clients good news, but not all news can be good. When it's time to send a negative business letter to a client, it's important to do what you can to keep your relationship positive even if the message itself isn't.
Start Out With a Thank You
When writing a bad-news letter, you need to focus on maintaining the best possible relationship with the client, showing that the decision was fair and stating the bad news as clearly and succinctly as possible. Open the letter thanking the client for their business, before announcing the bad news and offering any possible solutions. The goal of this section is to let the client know that you value their patronage and would like to maintain your positive relationship.
"We know you have many options when it comes to banking, and we appreciate that you have chosen to work with Fake Financial for the last six years."
Segue Into the Bad News Message
You don't want to sugarcoat the bad news, use euphemisms that make it difficult to understand what happened or explain more than is necessary. Also, do not apologize excessively. Instead, succinctly explain what happened, how it affected the client and apologize. Remember that your client's time is valuable and they only want to know what happened and why.
"Last night, we uncovered an error that affected your account and may have prevented your online transactions from the last three months from accurately being entered into our system. As a result, you may have noticed incorrect fees or balances on your account."
Try to Offer a Solution
When things go wrong, it's important to offer something positive to the client to minimize the blow. Don't lie or exaggerate something in an insincere way to try to make things better – your positive doesn't have to be major. For example, if the client was denied credit, you wouldn't want to infer that a mistake may have occurred or try to console the client that their credit is good, just not what your company was looking for.
"While we regret that your application was denied, you are welcome to reapply in a few months, at which point your credit situation may improve. In the meantime, we have a wide array of financial services that may benefit you."
Where Appropriate, Make a Referral
If you have to discontinue your relationship, you can refer the client to a reputable competitor or notify them that you may take them on again at a later time.
"While I can regrettably no longer serve as your legal counsel, my respected colleague, John Beech would be more than happy to take on your case. You can contact him to schedule a free consultation by calling 888-555-4848."
When It's Your Fault
If the bad news was the result of a problem within your company, tell the client how the problem is being rectified, even if that just means stating that the employee responsible will be disciplined or that you have since updated your software.
"We regret that your account was momentarily closed due to an employee error. Your account has since been reopened, and we have refunded all fees associated with the closure. We are also implementing a system that will make account closures more difficult, to prevent accounts from being accidentally closed in the future."
- Never refer to the negative performance of any employee, in your organization or in your client's, in a bad news letter. Always refer to the situation -- "the letter didn't make it to the post office" - rather than single out any employee's actions.
- Bad news letters are often carefully analyzed for flaws and hidden meanings. Know this in advance and write in simple, clean language that leaves little room for interpretation.
- Be generous in your letter, especially if the bad news is your client's fault.
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