Bad News Letters

Bad news letterwriting frustration.

How to Write Bad News in a Letter

And still keep your client!

Every now and again you may be required to write an email or a letter that contains bad news.

This may be to your customers telling them you are increasing your prices or ceasing to offer a particular service.

Alternatively, you may have to write to a supplier dispensing with their services.

Whatever the reason for your letter, you will (hopefully) want to write it in a way that doesn’t offend, that keeps you onside with the recipient (especially if it’s a customer) and doesn’t sully your reputation in your industry.

This is not a task for the faint-of-heart!

Learning how to construct a bad news letter that will ensure customers don’t immediately run off to your rival is a good skill to have in business.

It is not difficult to do, but judging by the emails and letters I’ve received over the years you would have thought it was like trying to climb Everest!

For instance, how often have you received a letter that goes something like this?

Dear Valued Client
Because of rising external costs, we are increasing our prices by 10%, effective immediately.
We apologise for any inconvenience.
XYZ Company

What’s wrong with this? Let me count the ways:

  1. It is impersonal
  2. No thought has been given to how it would feel to receive this letter
  3. The business clearly doesn’t care about the client
  4. No attempt is being made to keep the client’s business
  5. It is dismissive and almost sarcastic.

10 steps to a great bad-news letter

Here’s how to write a good bad-news letter that helps you retain the client, shows them you care, and tries to explain what they’re doing and why.

Dear [customer name] First, personalise your bad news letter if you want to make people believe you are on their side.

You have been a valued client of XYZ Company for [xx] years and we truly appreciate your business.
Start with something positive. In this example, appreciation of the client.

In the past 12 months, our external costs have risen continuously.
Cushion the bad news to give the reader an inkling of what’s to come without actually giving them the news.

While we have tried hard to cut our own costs to compensate, it has not been possible to offset all these external price rises and regrettably we must raise our own prices.
Detail the bad news with a bit more cushioning that says we wish we didn’t have to do this and we’ve tried other methods first, this is our last resort.

Although this increase is our first in three years, we have managed to keep it to just 5%.
More good news first, or at least mitigation, before the detail of the increase. Using “just” implies it could have been worse.

But because we value your business, we will not be implementing the increase until the beginning of the next billing cycle.
Another cushion, this time saying we’re not doing so immediately so you have some warning. Something positive after the bad news.

We do so wish we didn’t need to pass some of the cost increases on to you but if we want to stay in business it is our only option.
Another apology. And reiteration that not all costs are being passed on, some are being absorbed.

Now, you may have questions about this, which we fully understand. If that is the case, please pick up the phone and call us. We always like hearing from our customers.
Here, we’re putting our arm around the reader and inviting them to get in touch if they wish. Finish with another feel-good message.

We know you have a choice of suppliers and are so glad that you choose us!
Another reinforcement of the value of the client to the company.

Yours faithfully,
[A real person’s name]
[Position in company]
A simple sign-off by either someone the recipient knows or at the very least a real person’s name, not just a title.

If you would like help to write a bad news letter, please contact us.

More tips to improve your writing.