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Many years ago I was a printing buyer, in charge of production for a large and complex direct mail program. When the inevitable problems occurred, how they were handled factored heavily into my decision as to whether or not to continue doing business with the responsible vendor.

Dealing with problems is never easy, but how you deliver difficult news – and of course follow up by delivering solutions – can make a world of difference in your client relationships.


It’s a fact: sooner or later you’ll have to deliver difficult news to a client. Perhaps you made a mistake or missed a deadline. Maybe a delivery will be delayed, prices have gone up or credit has been denied. Whatever it is, how you present the news (i.e. how you “market” it) can have as big an impact as the news itself. Here’s what you should do:

  1. Assess the Situation. To whom should you be delivering the news? What impact will this news have on the customer and their business? If there is a problem, what will it likely take to convince the customer that the situation is contained or under control?

  2. Tell the Client ASAP. Don’t try to hide the situation. “I have something to tell you that is not what you’re expecting to hear.”

  3. Accept the Blame and Apologize. If you or your company has done something wrong, now’s the time to admit it. Whether or not it was your fault, a heartfelt apology will demonstrate your sincerity and concern.

  4. Empathize. Let the client know that you understand what an inconvenience (or serious problem) this situation is for them.

  5. Present Solutions. Focus on what you can do to alleviate the situation for your customer. Be prepared to offer what you see as the best possible solutions.

  6. Follow Up. Stay in close contact with the customer until you know that the problem has been resolved to their satisfaction.

Finally, don’t forget to ask for the client’s continued support. “Mary, can I count on you to accept my apology and continue to work with me to keep things moving forward?” This step is often neglected, and can go a long way towards cementing the relationship in spite of the current glitch.

What Others Are Saying

"Each time I work with Linda, I am reminded just how well she understands marketing. Linda understands the principles of marketing on a psychological level. She sees the bigger picture. She is pragmatic, insightful and incredibly fast."

Kristine Putt,
Owner and Brand Identity Designer, Paragon Moon