• Chris Newby

Confronting Problems Effectively

Delivering bad news is something I’m not great with, and being raw and honest, its probably my biggest weakness. I will always give my best to try to solve a problem, but my biggest weakness is confronting them in the first place. Unfortunately though problems are part of life and everyone will encounter them every now and again. The main thing is to limit them and to learn from them as much as possible. I’m the sort of person who always likes to feel like I’m helping everybody, particularly my customers, and I’m the sort of person who, rightly or wrongly, tends to take it personally.

Through personal experience, I feel it’s important to raise this topic, and that’s how to overcome and handle difficult situations that arise from time to time and overcoming the fear factor involved in having to deliver bad news to valued customers.

It’s inevitable that things occasionally will not go to plan, despite every effort being made to make all the processes go smoothly. For example, in the fresh poultry trade, bringing products into the UK from Poland and other places in Europe is a big task with lots of potential for problems, which are nobody’s fault.

Sometimes trucks are delayed, sometimes there are breakdowns at sites, sometimes bird weights just don’t drop. The list is endless and you are relying on a lot of cogs in the wheel to turn properly. The trade is very fast moving and with fresh product, it is very difficult to put any sort of contingency plan in place at either end if there are problems. Whilst every effort is made for the process to go smoothly, things can go wrong. It then leads to the next step - how do you best manage the problems that could be caused?

I know from first hand experience, that delivering bad news to a customer or a Director is never easy, and can be a very daunting experience despite the amount of career experience I’ve had, It never gets any easier. It can also be a frustrating experience as well, especially when you are one having to pick up the pieces caused by things not going smoothly earlier on in the chain which are outside of your own control.

You have to bear the brunt of the customers frustrations. Having worked as a buying assistant as well earlier in my career, I can understand the frustrations that problems can cause, especially if they are completely depending on that delivery coming in according to plan, with no backup in place if it goes wrong.

Delivering bad news in my opinion is without doubt one of the worst things you can do, Especially when you care about your customers and the level of service you provide so much. I have found and have learned through experience and through working with others, a few points.

  • Be upfront and report any problems as early as possible. If things don’t go to plan, I’ve honestly found it best to bring it to the attention of your customer. Find out all the facts, and explain as early as you can. The earlier the issues are confronted, the more of a chance there is in being able to work together to find a solution.

  • Be sure to offer an alternative. It’s always important to be able to offer an alternative solution, even if it might not be the desired one. You should at the very least be able to offer something to offset the issues that a problem may cause, whether its a price reduction or an alternative product.

  • Learn where things didn’t go to plan and find ways to improve this area. It’s inevitable that importing fresh poultry, or any product for that matter which is made to order and transported over a long distance, that there is large scope for error and things won't always go smoothly. Anyone who says it always goes correctly are quite frankly not being truthful. If things don’t go to plan, dissect what went wrong, and see if there are any ways at at all that the particular area can be improved. For long distance imports, more often than not it will be something that is just down to being unfortunate, such as a traffic delay, cancellation of ferries, a delay in leaving the production site. There are also legal breaks which drivers have to understandably take.

With anything that goes wrong though, there are always to at least have a look and see if things that can be improved. There is an opportunity to learn from any experience, and this is usually more important than the actual experience itself.

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(c) Chris Newby 2021