Continued from Part 1.
7. Explain the reason this happened. "This happened because I didn't double check the release dates on what I believed to be the latest copy of our development schedule. I was looking at an outdated copy."
8. Explain why this will never happen again. "Our VP of Development was upset to hear that this happened. He has instituted a new communication mechanism whereby any changes in the development schedule will be emailed to everyone in the sales, marketing, support, and professional services organizations, with return receipts on those emails, which will be tracked in a database."
9. Conciliate. Explain what you are going to do about it. "Jim, I've already gotten authorization from our VP of Development to put your project at the top of the stack. As the mistake was ours, he also insists that we take on this special project at our cost. The good news is that when the standard interface is released in June, we'll be delighted to provide it at no charge, since you will have already paid for that capability." (Those of you in the technology sector will appreciate that there are additional issues that must be addressed in a situation such as this.) At that point continue to explain how you feel this news might be positioned to others in Jim's organization.
10. Ask if there are any concerns or questions about what you said. "Jim, I've told you the news and explained the impact and a recommended course of action. Are there any issues that I may have missed? Do you have any questions or concerns?" Answer any questions he may have at this point or tell Jim that you'll get him any answers you aren't sure of. If the VP of Development (in this case) is not there with you, you may want to have him or her to be available by phone to answer any additional questions or just to support your statements to the customer.
11. Close for his support. This is a step that is often neglected. "Jim, I'd like to know if I can count on you to accept my apology and continue to work with me to keep us moving forward together." It is important that you are patient at this point and do not speak.
Additional points and reminders
- Look at the bad news from the customer's position first, not yours.
- Ignore the urge to spin. In situations like this when you are being scrutinized with an electron microscope, it's important that you are telling it straight.
- It is extremely important to use this procedure if this is a competitive situation and your opponent is aware of the bad news. Once they get in to your customer and spin the news to their advantage, you've missed an opportunity to protect yourself from attack. In the words of Dr. Andrew Mason, "Admit your errors before someone else exaggerates them."
- If you work for a public company, you'll have to consider the aspect of timing. You cannot disclose to a customer anything material that hasn't been announced publicly. It's selective disclosure and illegal. But if you wait too long after the public announcement is made, you've left time for your competitor to act.
- Don't waste time. Take action now. When you find out the bad news, jump right into the assessment phase. If you wait too long, you'll lose the opportunity to be the first person to tell your client the news.
- Apologize and accept responsibility. Then go forward. No need to beat yourself up. That will only dilute your efforts to build credibility.
- Don't forget to ask for the person's support. It would be a waste of energy to go through all of this effort and then have to guess where you stand with the customer.
- If there is something of value you can provide your customer that will further appease them, consider offering it. In this case, perhaps forgoing the first year's maintenance fees on the interface might be appropriate.
Delivering bad news is clearly not fun. However, it could be the very thing that will highlight a valuable component of your corporate (and personal) brand to your customer .
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