The activity we will tackle in this blog installment is how to communicate the unfortunate news to the customer. Continuing from part 1; we have come up with a course of action to recover from a ship workers’ strike that pushed our delivery out by at least 7 weeks on a critical project that the customer needs immediately. We discussed how the first thing we need to do is not to panic.
Now that we have that panic-mode out of the way; we decided that we need to work on solutions and on communicating the situation to the customer – and we need to do both activities as close to simultaneously as possible. It is an emergency after all!
Communicating problems is never comfortable. We can never predict how the person receiving the news is going to react. That’s fine, we shouldn’t want to predict how they will react. Just know that it’s better to inform them sooner than later, and that they will not be happy with the news.
However unhappy the customer might be with the news; what you want to do is drive the situation to where the customer is your ally in finding a solution to the problem rather than become another problem to deal with on top of it all.
The list below is a good approach of how to inform your contact of the problem:
1. Don’t just SHARE the bad news
It should be obvious that a “Dear customer, unfortunately, the project will not ship until two weeks from the previously communicated date” email is simply not going to cut it. The next thing you know is the customer will be after you with expediters and escalations to upper management. You are obviously concerned about the situation so let the customer know this – not by apologizing but by…
2. Take ownership of the problem
Sharing what possible solutions you are considering and offering options on how to move forward is a great starting point. This will encourage the client to provide their input and any ideas they might have. Maybe you have never experienced this situation before but perhaps the customer or someone in their organization has and they can be an asset to overcome the situation.
3. Share the impact of the problem (and of your proposed solutions) concisely
Run each scenario and prepare timelines to let the customer know what the time impact could be for each course of action. If you have any information on money (how much would it be to contract a private transporter, shipping the project by air or land, etc.) share it! All decisions are based on time and money so having this information available is always helpful.
4. Pick up the phone
This can be prior to the email or immediately after. Bad news emails are usually read with the ‘problem’ filter fully engaged in the reader’s eyes and this can make things escalate quickly. A phone call to the customer’s point of contact will reaffirm that you are taking ownership of the problem and help the exchange of ideas be more fluid. Let them know what you are doing to try to alleviate the problem and probe for their feedback. If you can feasibly follow this up with a face-to-face meeting; even better!
5. Always keep your management/project sponsor in the loop
Don’t let the news catch them by surprise the following day. Or worse, have an old former co-worker that now works for your customer call them on their personal mobile phone about it. Hopefully, you reported the situation as it arose; if not, this is your reminder!
Luckily, we’ve already done some legwork in the previous blog installment so we are in very good shape with possible paths forward and recovery plans to share with the customer as we inform them of the unfortunate circumstances we are in. Remember that as a project manager, you are looking for the customer’s best interests – make sure they feel the same way.
All The Bad News Bears images © of Paramount Pictures.
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