How to Write a Bad News Letter to Clients

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A well-written letter can deliver bad news without infuriating your client.
A well-written letter can deliver bad news without infuriating your client. (Image: Jupiterimages/Comstock/Getty Images)

Writing good news business letters is fun and relatively easy. But a bad news letter to a good client can be the hardest piece of business correspondence to write. The letter must deliver bad news and yet somehow maintain a good relationship with the client. Crafting a bad news letter takes creativity and nerve, but is actually not as difficult write as it may seem.

Use a standard business letter form. Make sure to double check the spelling of the client’s name, business name and address. Simple errors like these, when added to the impact of the bad news in the letter, will make you seem sloppy and unsympathetic.

Summarize the situation up to the point of the bad news in your first paragraph. Be honest and sincere, but be positive. Highlight any circumstances where your company has worked well with the client.

Use the next paragraph to deliver the bad news cleanly and honestly. Neither embellish the bad news with personal opinions nor sugar coat it. Just state the truth as you know it to be.

Offer alternative solutions in the next paragraph. Look for ways to reduce the impact of the bad news by suggesting other methods of achieving the goal at hand.

Apologize in the last paragraph. Remind clients of your company’s devotion to their business and willingness to take whatever steps you can to fix the problem.

Tips & Warnings

  • 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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