IF YOU ASK professional sales people this question,you are likely to hear answers that will not surprise you: Product Knowledge, Listening, Persistence, Negotiation and so forth. However, my friend and partner Stuart Carter, one of the best sales professionals I have known and worked with, shared this interesting tidbit about his own thirty plus years of a very successful sales career: "I always asked my customers why they liked doing business with me?. Things didn't always go as smoothly as we expected" Says Stuart. "We were in electronic components distribution and the logistics were quite complicated. We simply couldn't control the weather in Japan or trucks breaking down. I honestly thought that customers stayed with me because of our competitive pricing, quality and attentive service. But what I have heard consistently over the years was much simpler: "Stu, we appreciated how you delivered bad news".
Now, if you're in sales, take a deep breath and contemplate this very powerful insight. If you're in customer service, operations or any other discipline, it is also an incredibly valuable lesson on communications skills. Whether your "clients" are in-house (co-workers) or outside customers, knowing how to communicate or deliver bad news is a critical skill. Here are some guidelines:
- Successful sales people know that bad news are opportunities. Don't panic or over-react. It is your chance to leave a lasting impression.
- Understand the full impact of your bad news. Consider the financial aspect as well as the emotional toll. Put yourself in the customer's shoes.
- Deliver bad news "in-person". Don't use email, voicemail or any other impersonal venue. You'll just be perceived as a coward who is hiding behind technology. Worse, whether you like it or not, by "hiding" you are admitting fault even if it had nothing to do with you!
- Make sure that you have a solution ready before you make the call.
- "Whose fault is it?" Is totally irrelevant and should not be brought up. The last thing you want is a defensive client. Focus on a successful outcome not what lead to the crisis.
- The act of delivering bad news is the beginning of a "journey" that will either end with you keeping customers for life, or lose them forever.
- Own it.Fix it. Whatever happens, this experience will define how you and your company are perceived. Every customer remembers their bad experiences.
- Have integrity. Never, ever, lie to a customer. "The truth shall set you free". Even the most irate and difficult customer, will forgive you if you are honest and demonstrate that you have their best interests in mind.
- If the root cause is with your customer ("their fault"), don't bring it up now. First, learn from the experience and put in preventative measures to protect your company in the future. Even if it was not your fault, there was a breakdown in your "process-control" and the mistake slipped by.
- Secondly, and only after a successful resolution with the customer, find the right time and suggest that he/she review their own process and implement similar preventative measurements.
So, what is your corporate culture when it comes to delivering bad news? Do you train your team for "outcome-based-resolution", or is the first question everyone asked is "whose fault was it"?