How to Deliver Bad News to Clients with Critical Conversation Skills

Public relations with customers and critical conversations have much in common. Just like a critical conversation, public relations delivers bad news to customers through an open and honest environment, and then presents what’s happening next. The following critical conversation skills are great tools to add to any public relations strategy.

Critical conversation skill: Create an open and honest environment

It’s far better to say, “We’re finding out what’s happening and will tell you as soon as we do know,” than to try to make up something that you may later need to alter.

As a customer, which statement would make you want to continue working with another company or individual?

  • Initial statement: “I didn’t do it! We aren’t wrong!” Two days later: “He was wrong.” Four days later: “Well, maybe we were wrong.” A week later: “Okay, I was wrong.”

  • Initial statement: “Something went wrong. We don’t know what it is, but we’re working to find out what happened. We will do everything we can to fix the problem after we figure out what happened. I’ll keep you informed every day to let you know what’s happening.” One day later: “This is what happened, and this is what we’re going to do to fix it.”

Most customers would be much more inclined to continue the relationship with the company in the second scenario. Trust and a genuine desire to make things better are not only at the center of a critical conversation, but also at the center of customer relationships.

Critical conversation skill: Identifying solutions together

After examining the facts and sharing them, one of the immediate next steps is to identify alternatives or solutions to the problem. This is true with a critical conversation with an employee or a discussion with a customer after a PR disaster.

Luckily, the same critical conversation terminology that can help you create an environment of trust, can also help you find a solution for your customers that helps to not only resolve the problem, but also build a relationship.

Here’s what a critical conversation may sound like when working through a PR issue with a client.

Examine the facts: “Our manufacturing line for trains and dolls broke down the last week in November, and our shipment to all the good little girls and boys is delayed.”

Acknowledge feelings: “I can understand how you may be upset because of the timing of the breakdown. Are you willing to work with me to help find a solution as quickly as possible?”

Decide on next steps: “Our shipments will be ready the second to last week in December, and we can expedite the shipping with the help of little delivery trucks around the world, or I can help you partner with another supplier. Would any of these solutions work for you, or do you have another idea on how to fix the problem that we can agree to?”

The customer’s response: “I think we can work with one of those solutions. Thanks for your honesty and quick work.”

Not having the trucks, trains, and dolls for the children on the other side of the mountain in late December could potentially shut down this company. By being honest with the facts and working together to resolve the problem in everyone’s interest, the solution can be resolved.

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