Bad news. I’m betting you’ve had to deliver it or receive it, either on the job or in your personal life. Perhaps you’ve taken some time to reflect on its nature and how delivery might have been handled better.
Management guru Patty Azzarello, in a blog post “How NOT to market bad news” believes that companies really mess up when they pretend that bad news is actually good. She mentions going to Starbucks two days after her birthday and expecting her free birthday coffee treat to be honored. When that’s not the case, she turns to Twitter and receives a cheery, but non-satisfying response about how birthday rewards expire the day after her birthday so “we that we can truly celebrate with you on your big day.” That, she notes, “is a great example of a marketing person trying to turn bad news for the customer into happy sounding news instead of serving the customer.”
Now, when I read this, I sort of shrugged my shoulders. Really, what’s the tragedy about one coffee less in life? But her next example made me sit up and take notice. Suppose I had persuaded my boss to buy an expensive product that was unexpectedly discontinued after my company had geared up to use it and devoted support resources to it. That’s a heck of a lot less trivial. And this is where the seller needs to do two things. First, tell the truth and then help the customer.
Tell the truth
Lay it on the line. Tell your customer—and it may help to view her as your best friend during this interchange—that your company has made the decision to discontinue the product, that you know it leaves her and her employer in a difficult position, that you wanted to tell her personally, and that you want to help.
Help the customer
How? In this instance, you visit the customer’s site and help her deliver the news to colleagues. You demonstrate that they’ll be better off with the new product and that you and your company will help them through the transition. Doing this helps your customer maintain her credibility, and, equally important—at least to me—helps your company maintain its honor.
It requires marketing skill to disguise bad news as good news. Whether something is as trivial as seeing a pound bag of coffee become 13 oz. over the years (with no reduction in price) or as important as losing a critical product or service without a transition plan, bad news is bad news. Be clear about it. Don’t sugar coat, and don’t expect that an effort to do so will not damage a customer relationship. Put your energy into making things as right as you can, not on polishing your prose.