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Small Business Tips

How to Deliver Bad News to a Client

Manasa Reddigari

Can't give your client what he wants or when he wants it? Enlist these tips on how to deliver bad news to a client and you'll move forward from the mistake with your client relationship still intact.

Make sure they hear it from you

One of the worst things that can happen when delivering bad news is learning that your client already heard about it through the grapevine.

Outside of personnel at your own business, the first person to hear your bad news should be the impacted client. That means don't vent about the news to other business contacts until your client has received it. Encourage your staff to use the same discretion when communicating sensitive news to clients.

Communicate issues early

Business owners sometimes bite on more than they can chew and get behind on project deadlines. In other cases, they underestimate the time needed to complete a project.

Rather than communicate the issue, they sometimes let more time pass thinking they can bring the derailed project back on track. But in truth, your client is more likely to face negative consequences with stakeholders at his business if you wait too long to deliver the news.

Always break bad news early so that your client can prepare his customers for the reality that a project won't go according to plan. This will mitigate any potential negative impacts on your client's business.

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Don't play the blame game

A critical piece of advice when learning how to deliver bad news to a client is to own up to your own mistakes in judgment. Did a shipment from your supplier come in late causing you to miss your delivery to a customer? Did your still in-training staff member produce a product that wasn't up to its usual quality?

It's fine to mention these reasons in passing but you still need to own up to the mistake. Clients don't necessarily need to know about the inner workings of your business so much as whether you can fulfill your obligations or not.

Placing blame on circumstances or other people only signals to your client that you are unwilling to own up to mistakes in judgment. Everyone makes mistakes now and again. But responsible business leaders fess up to them and do what is in their power to make things right.

Come prepared with a solution

Strive to deliver bad news to a client in the format "The bad news is 'X' but the good news is 'Y.' The good news should take the form of a solution to the problem.

That means that before you break bad news you should give thought to a solution that can mitigate the negative impact of the news. Don't have the manpower to complete a project according to the client's desired specifications? Think about an approach that will yield a similar result but that can be done with the resources you have.

Is a project running late? Offer up a new time frame in which you can get the work done. Whatever bind you find yourself in, you can break it to your client more gently if you use a problem-solving mindset.

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