Behind the scenes of bad news messages to private customers. A qualitative analysis of writing at work in insurance companies and telecommunications service providers in Austria, Germany, and Italy

Barbara Pizzedaz

Publication: ThesisDoctoral thesis

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Service providers frequently need to break unpleasant post-sales news to private customers concerning changes in contracts, increases in fees, rejection of insurance claims, and so on. However, although customer communication is widely regarded as a key aspect of business communication, limited access to original documents and the lack of insights into their background mean that little field research has been done on how such bad news messages (BNMs) are formulated in practice, by whom, and how the production process may impact the effectiveness of the message in terms of comprehensibility and intended action on the part of the recipients. The present study aims to fill this research gap. It adopted basic qualitative approach, drawing on exploratory research. Methods to gather data were qualitative (unstructured and semi-structured) interviews with representatives of telecommunications service providers and insurance companies in Austria, Germany, and Italy, as well as qualitative analysis of authentic primary and secondary documents. Thematic analysis was then applied to examine the data. Key findings show that no single department within a company is responsible for BNMs. In many cases, the process of creating these texts involves, as in a “(text) choir”, a complex and dynamic interplay of various “voices” (authors) both internal (e.g., corporate managers, lawyers and in-house authors), and external (e.g., communication agencies, customers, and even the market regulators). During the entextualisation and recontextualisation process, this can result in tensions resolvable only by adopting a recursive text production process such as document cycling and through “linguistic” compromises. The final product is thus “polyvocal” and/or hybrid. In the latter case, it may not be fully in tune from a linguistic point of view, for example when also external (legal) voices must be compulsorily introduced into the BNM choir. As well as being of potential interest also to researchers and professionals, the findings are expected to have pedagogical implications informing, for example, (tertiary level) business communication syllabi with practical contents.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • WU Vienna
Publication statusPublished - 2022


  • Bad news messages, writing at work, document cycling, “linguistic” compromise, “compulsory insertion” of (a part of) one text into another

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