Unfortunately it’s the low point of any account manager’s role – when something goes wrong. There are a few different types of bad news, some more severe than others. It’s important to remember that as long as you remain proactive, not only can things be resolved but you also have fantastic opportunity to solidify your relationship with your client.
Here are some tips on delivering bad news to your clients based on a couple of bloopers I’ve made in my time!
1) The “It’s really not your fault” bad news
Although some clients would still blame you for a last minute tube strike preventing your invitees from attending an event, clients are usually reasonable in this sort of situation. Having said that, they are still massively inconvenienced and will be stressed about a contingency plan to help save budget or make them look good in front of senior management. This sort of situation presents a golden opportunity for good account managers to go the extra mile. Contacting all the attendees asking for alternative dates so you have them ready for the client is incredibly proactive. Or last minute arranging of private transport to bring the attendees instead would save your client a lot of hassle and reiterate that your agency puts their clients at the heart of what they do.
The most important thing to remember in a “it’s really not your fault” bad news situation is not to pass the buck or wash your hands of the situation. You need to remember that you and your client are a team representing the brand so their issues should ultimately be yours as well.
2) The “It’s not our fault, it’s our supplier’s” bad news
Imagine there is a deadline looming and your design agency has let you down on some urgent work – either it’s going to be late or is not up to the mark at all. How can you tell your client that the design agency you used are not only useless but have now put the brand in a sticky situation. The first thing to remember when delivering this piece of bad news is to never present it without a solution. What use is the knowledge that you can’t deliver the prints they need – how would that make your business look to their stakeholders?!
When the bad news comes to you, do everything you can to find a work around. Could you contact some other agencies – some often do last minute commissions as an attempt to obtain new business so you can always find someone else to deliver it for you.
Proactivity is key, “Our design agency let us down but…. I contacted a few others and will have the prints sorted by this afternoon”. This will mildly panic your client but relieve them that you have already sorted the problem. Again, it makes it look like you really care about the account and willing to go that extra mile.
3) The “Uh oh, we f*cked up” bad news
Amazing coverage – your client is about to be featured in the Style List, you run down to the tube station to grab a copy to be met with a description of your client but the wrong accompanying photograph. You get a mild lump in your throat but think the publication must have made a mistake. Once back at your desk, you notice that a particularly busy Wednesday resulted in you sending the wrong picture to the picture desk – this is nobody else’s fault but your own.
Rectify the situation immediately – contact the publication and say the wrong image was used. In this case, it does look bad on the publication for printing incorrect information so you would most likely get featured in the next issue to ensure its all correct.
Contact the client and be accountable. Don’t pass the buck, honesty is the best policy. Tell them that you have secured coverage in the next issue and if you were going to put a positive spin on the error, the website and description were still printed!
In this situation, focusing most of the conversation on your solution creates a sense of confidence and trust. The action you take to rectify the mistake is where you gain back your credibility. A client will be much more likely to continue working with you if they know that you’re willing to manage the burden for any problems that arise.