Should You Deliver Good News Or Bad News First?

how to deliver bad news to customers
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In customer service, the order in which you deliver news does make a difference. Here’s why…

I’ve got some good news and some bad news for you.

The good news is that there’s finally an answer to the age old question of whether you should deliver good news or bad news first.

The bad news is that you’ll need to read this post to learn the answer.

And when you get to the end, you’ll understand exactly why I started the post this way…

Good News First vs. Bad News First: The Science

How many times has someone asked you whether you want them to start with the good news or the bad news?

It’s an old cliché, but it turns out that it actually does make a difference. And the order you choose can actually change the way your customers feel and act.

Researchers at UC-Riverside tested the order in which they delivered news to subjects, and gauged their responses and behavior.

What they found was interesting:

While most of us (more than 70%) would prefer to deliver good news first (because we’re nervous about delivering the bad news), when we’re on the receiving end, we’d rather get the bad news first.

But when they actually tested the two approaches against each other, it turns out that they produce completely different results:

People who were given the bad news first were more likely to feel better about what they were told, while people who were given the bad news last were more motivated to act on the news.

What This Means for Customer Service

So, getting the bad news first makes you feel better afterwards, while getting the bad news last makes you more likely to act on it.

That means that the right way to deliver good and bad news depends on the context.

In customer service, we generally want our customers to be happier (happier customers, after all, are more loyal customers), so it’s a good idea to lead with the bad news.

For example, if you’re delivering bad news that a feature they requested won’t be built, lead with that:

I’m really sorry that we won’t be able to get this on our product roadmap anytime soon. The good news is that there is a workaround. Here’s how you do it…

But if you need to persuade the customer to act, then start with the good news.

Great news! That feature already exists. To access it, just upgrade to the [more expensive] plan by clicking here…

Next time you need to deliver both good and bad news to a customer, think about the context; the order you choose matters.

Len Markidan
Len Markidan Len used to head up marketing at Groove. Though he has now moved on to other adventures, he still likes popping in and saying hi every now and then.