How to Convey Bad News

iStock_000016875899Small1-300x199Performance is measured in response time and throughput. But what happens when response time falls off and you must convey the bad news to the customer, whether they be internal (i.e., corporate functions that your systems support) or external (i.e., cloud services you offer to other companies)?

There are political and technical considerations to address. First the technical.

To solve a problem with performance, it is typically necessary to get all the engineers and managers together into a room or video conference. The performance monitoring tool shows where the slowdown is located, and the engineers are responsible for finding a solution. If the solution requires purchasing additional hardware or cloud services, the manager is on hand to run that up the procurement chain-of-approval.

Regarding the political considerations, the worst thing you can do is to publicly call out the responsible party and embarrass him in front of others in the conference room. There you have gained an enemy without solving the problem. (This is more of an issue for internal customers as you are probably not going to insult your external customers.)

For external customers, go meet with them and take along the account manager. Depending on how savvy or tough your client may be, the account manager can placate the customer long enough for your IT operations team to come up with a solution. It is a well-known tactic for account managers to listen to the customer’s complaints, write them down, and promise to address them. No arguing is necessary. Just make a point of listening. If the customer feels his or her concern is pushed onto the agenda then he or she might be satisfied that help is on the way.

If the customer is a battle-hardened veteran, he or she is likely going to demand that additional resources be committed to solving the problem. So, don’t walk into a meeting with the customer unprepared. Carry along spreadsheets, powerpoints, whatever means of communication and performance metrics you have to show that you are aware of the problem. If you don’t have a solution yet, promise to come back with one.

The greatest engineers are those who can communicate effectively as well as write code or architect designs. Having skills in both areas helps keep the customer pleased and hopefully avoid a blow up.

Here you have some ideas of how to convey bad news to the customer – as you can see, collaboration with stakeholders, whether internal or external, is key.