It’s never easy to break bad news to a client, but it’s particularly hard for small businesses that rely on a handful of good customer relationships for the bulk of their livelihood. It’s important to stop that uncomfortable conversation escalating into a rift between you and your client that could result in you losing a valuable source of revenue.
Here are a few tips on what to do:
– Don’t ignore a problem. Bad news, unlike fine wine, doesn’t get better with age. If there are warning signs that the project is in trouble, you mustn’t ignore them. If you wait the problem may only get worse and your client will want to know why you didn’t tell them earlier that something was wrong. Either way the trust your client had in you is likely to be fatally undermined. Also, the quicker you tell them the likelier it will be that you and your client can work together to solve the problem.
– Put yourself in your client’s shoes. You mustn’t avoid the fact that your problems are likely to have a knock-on effect on your customer, such as possibly delaying a major project that they may be under pressure to deliver on deadline. Acknowledge at the outset of your conversation that you’ve put your client in a difficult situation, but make it clear that your top priority remains to deliver on the promises you have made to them, despite the changed circumstances.
– Don’t beat around the bush. No one likes to receive bad news, but everyone hates to be kept waiting before hearing it. This isn’t the time for long-winded excuses or technical explanations about why it happened. You need to sit down with your client and explain clearly what’s gone wrong. By tackling the problem head on, instead of offering a stream of abject apologies, you reduce the risk of looking incompetent. Being honest and sparing them the fertiliser can actually build trust between you and your client.
– Have an answer ready. Don’t just bring a problem to your client meeting, bring a potential solution as well. That way you can show the client that you’re on top of the problem and you can see a way of resolving it. But you need to remain open and flexible; it’s likely that your client won’t accept your new proposal straight away. They might come up with their own solution, in which case you need to be willing to compromise. Be prepared for the possibility that they might try to drive a hard bargain; after all, they may think they’re entitled to do so as it was your mistake in the first place. What’s important is that you reassure them your firm is still up to the job of delivering what they need and guarantee that you’ll strain every sinew to fix the problem and get the project back on track. You want them to feel they can have confidence in you in the future, even if glitches occur, because you’ll give it to them straight and work your backside off trying to find a solution.