Write an Effective Letter Containing Bad News or an Apology

This article explains how to write a letter containing bad news or an apology. These are letters containing some bad news that probably will not be received well by the reader, or they contain an apology for some issue. Don’t try to soften the bad news by leaving out important messages or consequences, even if they are negative. Instead, create the letter so you present it in the most positive light that is warranted, considering the circumstances.

Focus on three areas.

  1. Begin by preparing the reader to receive the message with an understanding of what it’s all about.
  2. Write the message including the bad news with as positive a tone as is warranted, considering the message and consequences.
  3. Write the message clearly and effectively.

We’re going to examine a bad-news letter written to Janice Porter, a customer, by Beth Simpson, an account representative for Coleman Bank of State. Janice had three overdrafts for which she received overdraft charges. When she spoke with a teller about the charges, the teller explained the reason for them and said they could not be reversed. Janice left the bank unhappy and wrote a letter saying she was offended that the teller didn’t seem reasonable. The letter we’re looking at is Beth’s reply to Janice’s letter.

Below is the letter. A description of the important parts of an effective letter containing bad news or an apology follows this letter.

CBS Coleman Bank of State
1032 North Sixth Street, Clairton, PA 15025 ~ (412) 232-4817 ~ information@colemanstatebank.com

June 15, 2020

Ms. Janice Porter
143 Pennsylvania Avenue
Clairton, PA 15025

Dear Janice,

I am Beth Simpson, account representative for Coleman Bank. On June 13, we received your letter explaining that you were not satisfied with the teller’s explanation of the overdraft charges to your account the previous week.

We value you as one of our regular customers and want all of your contacts with Coleman Bank to be satisfying. I’m sorry you weren’t happy with the teller’s explanations. I want to assure you we’ll continue to work to make sure all of your visits are satisfying ones.

In your letter, you asked that we remove all three charges the teller described to you that resulted from your three overdrafts in one week. We are pleased to let you know that we are able to remove the first one because you didn’t realize your account had insufficient funds. We are not able to remove the other two because they resulted from overdrafts after you realized your account was overdrawn.

I will make sure your account is credited for the first overdraft charge within 24 hours.

We value you as one of our regular customers, and when you have an issue you want to bring to us, I invite you to call me or drop by. My phone number is (412) 232-4820.

Sincerely,

Beth Simpson
Customer Service Representative
Coleman Bank of State
(412) 232-4820


An explanation of the parts of the letter that make this a good letter of apology follows.
Font:
12-point or 11-point
Times New Roman or Arial
Black
Margins: One-inch margins all around

Letterhead CBS Coleman Bank of State

Skip three to six lines

Date June 15, 2020
Reference number Ref: File 10384 If you have a reference number, put it just below the date or two spaces below the date.
Then skip two blank lines before the inside address. If you have no reference number, allow three to six blank lines between the date and inside address.
Inside address Ms. Janice Porter
143 Pennsylvania Avenue
Clairton, PA 15025
Skip one line.
Salutation Dear Janice, Prefer to use only the first name and a comma to give the letter a more personal tone. If the writer has signed letters to you using a courtesy title such as “Ms,” use the courtesy title here.
Skip one line.
Subject You might normally write a subject line next in your company or agency letters. Don’t put a subject line in this type of letter.
Introduction I am Beth Simpson, account representative for Coleman Bank. On June 13, we received your letter explaining that you were not satisfied with the teller’s explanation of the overdraft charges to your account the previous week.
Start with anything the reader needs to know about you. Follow with the reason for this letter. Be specific about the dates and central issue. When you finish, start a new paragraph.
Skip one line.
Set the tone We value you as one of our regular customers and want all of your contacts with Coleman Bank to be satisfying. I’m sorry you weren’t happy with the teller’s explanations. I want to assure you we’ll continue to work to make sure all of your visits are satisfying ones.
The first paragraph of the body sets the tone. Begin with a buffer. A buffer is a positive statement at the beginning that sets the tone for the letter. If you have something positive you can write about the reader or the situation, write it here. If you have an ongoing relationship and something has gone well in a project that is the subject of the bad news, start with thanks or commendations.
Skip one line.
Write the apology if appropriate If this letter is about a situation that might involve an apology, write the apology next. Don’t apologize if no apology is warranted. Beth apologizes that Janice was unhappy, not that the teller offended Janice. Don’t apologize in a way that seems to blame or admit guilt unless that’s clearly warranted by the problem. You don’t know what actually happened. You only know that Janice didn’t like the teller’s attitude. Don’t assign emotions to the reader that weren’t in the person’s letter to you. If Janice wrote that she didn’t like the teller’s attitude, don’t write “I’m sorry you were angry about the teller’s attitude.” She didn’t write that she was angry. She wrote only that she didn’t like the teller’s attitude. Stay with the person’s words.
Describe what is positive about your actions. In your letter, you asked that we remove all three charges the teller described to you that resulted from your three overdrafts in one week. We are pleased to let you know that we are able to remove the first one because you didn’t realize your account had insufficient funds.
Begin your explanation by reminding the person what he or she wanted. Then state whatever you have been able to do that is positive. This helps defuse reactions to the bad news.
Skip one line.
State the bad news We are not able to remove the other two because they resulted from overdrafts after you realized your account was overdrawn.
Write the bad news after the positive actions. Always try to put the bad news into the middle of the paragraph. The opening of the paragraph is a strong position that will emphasize the bad news. Don’t use words such as “unfortunately,” “sadly,” “with regret,” or other such words that set a negative tone. Avoid using “however” and “but” as well. Don’t write words such as “company policy.” Just state the bad news.
Skip one line.
Follow with the commitment to act quickly I will make sure your account is credited for the first overdraft charge within 24 hours.
Break for a new paragraph and write your commitment to act on the persons’ behalf. Let the reader know what will happen next. Put this into its own paragraph to give it strength. Here, use “I” because you’re personally going to ensure this gets done. Give a timeline.
Skip one line.
End with words that build the feeling of partnership and  regard We value you as one of our regular customers, and when you have an issue you want to bring to us, I invite you to call me or drop by. My phone number is (412) 232-4820.
End cordially with words that build the feeling of partnership and regard. Write anything positive about the ongoing relationship that you can. Give the reader reassurances if the bad news might make him or her feel rejected or that something negative could happen. For example, if the bad news were that the company will be belt-tightening, here you might reassure the reader that positions will not be cut. Include the invitation for personal contact. Write your contact information to reinforce the willingness to talk about the issue, even though it is in the letterhead and below your closing.
Skip one line.
Complimentary close Sincerely,
For the closing, writers most often use “Sincerely.” You might also use “With regards,” “Cordially,” or “Thank you.” Don’t use “Thanking you in advance” or wording with “warm” in it.
Skip four lines for the signature.
Your signature and name Beth Simpson
Customer Service Representative
Close with your name as you want the reader to address you. You must also address the reader using the format he or she has used in correspondence to you. Include your position.
Your company and contact information Coleman State Bank
(412) 232-4820
End with information your company or agency normally puts at the end of correspondence. The ending should include your contact information.

A 60-Minute Video Workshop in Writing Letters

A 60-minute video workshop in writing letters follows. The video begins with general letter-writing skills all business writers should know. It then explains the following types of letters:

  • A letter providing information
  • A letter responding to a request
  • A letter inspiring commitment
  • A persuasive letter
  • A bad news or apology letter


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