How not to break bad news to your customers

October 22nd, 2012 by piers | No Comments

A few months ago Orange sent a text message, without warning, to its customers and suddenly all hell broke lose. This is what they wrote:

‘Hi from Orange. We’re increasing the price of your monthly plan by 4.34% from 8 January 2012. For more information visit’.

Oh dear.

So here’s Orange, contacting people who had signed up to a monthly contract for a fixed period and who expected to pay the same amount throughout that period, telling them their monthly payments were going up. A tricky message at the best of times.

What’s amazing is that they chose to communicate a controversial price rise in such a way. Who can blame customers for reacting angrily when they get told the news in a text like that?

And they did react angrily. Large numbers of infuriated customers started shouting loudly about it, online and off, many left, and Orange’s brand has suffered badly.

So let’s look a little closer.

The message starts off all friendly and informal: ‘Hi’. Then it just tells you that they’re increasing the price of your monthly plan. And that’s it. There’s no apology, no hint of regret, not the slightest acknowledgement that this is not good news.

In this context, that ‘Hi’ just makes things worse. If someone has bad news for you and they deliver it in a cheery way, apparently entirely oblivious to your feelings, it doesn’t make you more cheerful. It makes you more hurt and possibly angry.

Big organisations, like people with big egos, really hate saying sorry. When they really feel forced to, they prefer to say ‘We regret any inconvenience this may have caused’. If a real living person said that to you after just delivering some bad news, you’d think they were making some bad joke. Or else really, truly didn’t understand human beings.

The result is texts like this. You have to be thankful that at least, unlike in a letter, they didn’t go around the houses trying to hide the bad news.

But the fact it’s a text message does make the impact worse in some ways. A text comes without warning right to one of your most personal places, your phone. The arrival of a text can be abrupt at the best of times, but if it’s from a business and it’s telling you it’s charging you more than before, more than you thought you’d agreed to pay, it’s particularly unwelcome and intrusive.

So what could Orange have done to cushion the blow? It’s not hard.

Recognise that their customers are human beings. Address those customers as if they, the people at Orange, are people too.

Mainly, Orange needed to show it understood that this wasn’t good news. So why not say sorry? An apology doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve done something wrong. It could just mean you’re inconveniencing someone. We use ‘sorry’ like that all the time.

‘Hello from Orange. We’re really sorry about this, but we are having to raise the cost of your monthly plan. Find out more about why and what difference it will make at’.

A text worded more like that would have made a real difference. It would have showed they gave a damn about their customers at least. I guarantee the fuss wouldn’t have been so bad.

Words can damage a business. Especially a business that’s been built on a fresh, friendly, modern tone of voice.

Posted in Copywriting, Marketing, tone of voice