It’s Not All Good News … And It’s Complicated

Posted: February 16, 2016

As a marketer, your job is not always about communicating the many benefits of the services you provide. Sometimes you have to share the bad news. And to make matters worse, that bad news often centers around a topic that is not so simple to explain.

One day you are at your desk, pen in hand, brainstorming great stories that highlight customers whose lives have been enriched by broadband. Suddenly your attention is captured by an email: we need to tell our customers about the upcoming benchmark increases on local service; the board has approved a rate increase on video; a group of customers has gone to the local newspaper with their complaints about the requirement for a phone line in order to get broadband service.

How do you communicate bad news, especially when it’s complicated?

While there is no easy answer — and certainly not one that fits all scenarios — there are some principles you can apply to help you shape your message.

Get in your customer’s head. Remember what it was like before your brain was filled with all things telco. Practicing empathy, the ability to understand what others are feeling, takes a lot of , well, practice — but it will help you tremendously as a communicator. Learn to think like your customer and it will provide a strong foundation for the next steps you must take.

Break it down. Spend some time deconstructing the topic. When you hear the term “retransmission consent agreements,” the entirety of the issue presents itself clearly in your head. When your customers hear that term, their eyes glaze over. Take your bad news apart, piece by piece, and create bullet points for every component that leads to the bigger picture. You may not use all these points in your communications efforts, and you may end up combining one or two, but the exercise will help you simplify the issue even while helping you create your communications plan.

Be straightforward. Yes, you want to frame the issue in a positive light where possible, but that doesn’t mean hiding the main points and sugar-coating the issue. Tell your customers exactly what is happening and how it will impact them. As always, when you finish drafting your message be sure to get it in front of a fresh set of eyes. Ask them to do more than check for spelling, grammar and accuracy. Say, “please read this like a customer … is the meaning clear?”

Acknowledge their pain. Chances are, your bad news is going to upset someone. It might even ruin their day. You might be tempted to brush aside the impact (“it’s only a $2 increase, what’s the big deal?), but don’t. You can only guess what impact your news will have on people, so don’t try to pass it off as inconsequential. Recognize the inconvenience, or even hardship, this may cause the people you serve.

Provide alternatives. When possible, give your customers an alternative to living with your bad news. For instance, if you have to drop a channel from your TV lineup, show customers how they can watch that channel through your over-the-top offering or other online service. This is not always an option, but look for a silver lining when one is available. Don’t leave it up to your customer to search for it.

Communicate through various channels. Putting a message on your bill will only reach a certain portion of your customer base. The same goes for articles in your newsletter/magazine or posts on social media. Go where your customers are, and deliver messages (tailored for the medium) in as many places as possible.

Communicate often. We’ve all heard the adage that when you grow weary of saying something over and over your audience is just beginning to pick up on your message. That is probably not the case with bad news (it travels fast, you know), but the fact remains that “one and done” is never enough. Make sure your customers have ample opportunity to receive and process your information — even if you have long since tired of repeating it.

With an industry that is changing so quickly, there is always going to be bad news to share. But the good news is, there is plenty of good news. The services you provide are connecting people to opportunities that are growing communities, driving business growth and enriching lives throughout your service area. Do a great job sharing this good news and the bad news won’t seem so bad when it does come along.