Got some bad news? How to deliver negative information to a client
Ideally, you hope nothing ever goes horribly wrong with an account, so that you simply never have to be the bearer of bad news. But let’s face it. Bad things happen all the time, and it’s often not even your fault and couldn’t be helped. Sooner or later your client’s website will be hacked, the server will go down during a peak business time, the client will change addresses, not tell you, and you can’t figure out why their rankings are plummeting . . . it’s inevitable. So how do you tell a client bad news?
Prioritize communication. Well first things first, you have to decide that keeping your clients informed about their account progress is a priority. I’m certain most marketing professionals would tell you that it is best practice to keep your clients updated, but you’d be surprised how many SEO companies out there don’t even send reports let alone inform a client when something is wrong. The key here is to get into the mindset of keeping your clients in the loop about their account progress, whether positive or negative.
Positive information often doesn’t find its way to a client, which has always baffled me. If you communicate both kinds of news to clients on a regular basis, then they will be more inclined to believe you when you stand by your results. Keep in mind, there are a lot of sleazy companies out there. Just because you know you’re not one of them, doesn’t mean the client knows that. You demonstrate your trustworthiness by a combination of results, communication, honesty, and just plain humanity. If something were wrong with your business’ marketing campaign, wouldn’t you want to know? Give that same courtesy to your clients, and you’re already likely to survive the bad news. Ignoring it, or hoping your client doesn’t find out, is a recipe for lost clients.
Demonstrate your urgency. Depending on the scope of the bad news, it may be a better idea to jump on a call than to send an email. If it’s urgent and needs fixed right now, send them an email and ring their phones off the hook (is that expression even still applicable?) to get a hold of them. It’s a matter of perception. If you are trying desperately to get a hold of them, then they know you care about getting this fixed asap. Trust me, it’s way better for you and your company if you deliver the bad news than if the client finds out first and then tells you. I always appreciate it when a client informs me, but it’s preferable to beat them to the punch.
If it’s minor bad news, and likely a quick fix, an email should be enough. Offering to jump on a call if the client would like more details can also help ease the bad news as you are letting the client know that you are not running away from the problem, or belittling it. Remember, many small businesses are the pride and joy of the person who started them. It’s their baby, and they often care too much about it. If you don’t share their passion, they won’t trust you. If you belittle something that is a huge deal to them, bad news can turn into a full on crisis. And nobody wants to deal with that.
Accept the bad news graciously. Bad news for a client is bad news for you too. Sometimes, it’s bad enough that you may lose the client over it. I remember a client who suffered so many consistent hacks, that their rankings didn’t recover in the year that they were with us, despite our greatest efforts to build their site back up. An A for effort doesn’t necessarily mean an A for results. Ultimately, the results are what matter most. If the bad news means parting ways, you’re best off accepting that graciously. Just be sure you did everything you could first, which goes into my next point.
Be honest and proactive. This should go without saying. Don’t try to downplay the bad news. It is what it is. Say it like it is. Then let the client know exactly what you are going to do about it. This could be as simple as “we’re looking into it” or as direct as providing steps that are currently being taken. The point here though, is to state what is currently being done. Not just what will be done. Back to that perception thing. We have bad news, we’re not happy about it, we’re fixing it now. Stick with that formula, and bad news won’t be so difficult to deliver any more.
Now don’t just say that you’re on it, when you’re not. Most of the time, bad news is going to be a performance issue. That is, rankings have been poor for a while, or Google had an algorithm update that seems to have targeted your business specifically; all your competitors are fine (we’ve all been there). Especially when you are really not sure what the problem is, it is crucial to demonstrate proactiveness in discovering the problem and a potential solution. If your client sees you trying your best, that goes a long way. How about turning that bad news into a tangible problem with a tangible solution that, by the way, you happen to have? Suddenly the bad news is an opportunity to demonstrate what you and your company are made of. Piece of cake.