Thoughts ...

Delivering bad news

After spending the weekend in Paris I found myself reflecting, on the journey back, over how we had been treated at one of Paris’s hotels. This hotel was next door to the Eiffel tower.
The service was impeccable during the week – where it sits as business hotel. During the weekend they try to maintain their ‘star-rating’, they offer all the services but ‘elements of detail’ get lost.
First after ordering room service, we found the food was cold and items we didn’t order, after complaining several times we found we’d lost our appetite (and will to live). On reflection we realised that they offered, or seemed to offer a lower level of service to guests at the weekend.
What really got to me was being kept out of the loop on what was actually happening, or aware of what they were doing about it. I wouldn’t have minded, in their four attempts to deliver our meal, if they had kept me informed of what was happening.
It did make me smile when the Duty Manager arrived, apologised and and continuously offered complimentary fruit and drinks. A lovely chocolate gateaux are even a mountain of profiteroles would have sufficed.
Delivering bad news has never really been a skill people pick up, sharing bad news is something most of us dread doing. We either tend to do it badly, often in a rush or put it off which makes things worse. 
Experience has shown that there are things we can do to soften the blow, the ultimate aim is to share bad news to achieve best possible outcomes. As a minimum we want other people to believe the news was delivered as sensitively and effectively as possible. Hopefully they’ll feel good about it and the person who delivered it too.
There are a couple of things I’d like to share with you. Firstly when delivering bad news and dealing with complaints, I’ve always believed there is an opportunity to make a friend/friends and secondly, when delivering bad news consider using – what I call the – the four lines:
1. Accept there is an issue.
Start off by being completely clear and honest. You need to accept there is an issue, problem or bad news, If you don’t they will spot it – it’s a little like selling something, if you don’t believe in it – you can’t sell it. Let them know, that you know, that there is an issue.  Please save yourself a lot of embarrassment and possible backtracking by not starting off from a position of defences, they will never forgive you for that, let alone forget it.
2. How you’ll fix it.
Be succinct and let them know what you are intending to do to fix the issue or resolve the problem. Remember you do not need to go into masses amount of detail, just leave them with the thought that you are a ‘safe pair of hands’.
3. When you’ll next contact them.
 At this point you are setting expectations. Let them know when you next intend to contact them. Give them a channel to get back to you if they feel it’s necessary.
4. Prevention is better than cure.
Finally let them know what you intend to do to make sure that this doesn’t happen again.  You’ll find the majority of the time that you will be undertaking real-time monitoring and eliciting trends/results from focus groups.
Remember, if the thing you most dread is delivering bad news, much more than receiving it – honesty, sensitivity, foresight and timely delivery can save you a huge amount of pain.

Photo credit: *Bitch Cakes* / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)