In business, we spend the majority of our time thinking about sales and ways to increase growth. We spend tons of money on marketing and brand development. We work on procedures for onboarding clients and develop strategies to consistently grow the bottom line.
We don't spend a lot of time thinking about what to do when the client leaves.
Recently, we lost a long-term client, and if I am honest with myself, we did not handle the transition out of the contract very well. Whether a client leaves because of cash flow issues, service issues, or they just want to try something different, all businesses have the responsibility to handle this transition well. This year I encourage all business owners to focus not just on the business coming in, but also on ensuring that the proper processes are in place when a client ends the business relationship.
Thank your client for their business. Let your client know how much you have appreciated working with them and inform them of the next steps in the termination process. Give them a firm date of when billing will end. Make the break up as pleasant as possible and whatever you do, don't burn your bridges and destroy the connection or worse, your reputation.
Review your contract. Both parties should be familiar with the termination clauses and understand their responsibilities. If the company has been a client for a long time, the contract they signed may be different than the contract you are currently using for new sales. Make sure you understand their specific contract and remind the client in writing of some of the important details.
Over-communicate. Business is built on relationships and communication is vital in all relationships. When a client leaves, it is important that you communicate appropriately whether by phone, via email, through the mail, or in person. I suggest a mixture of all of these with written communication about the transition process and contractual obligations. Don't forget to document all communication.
Perform an exit interview. When you first hear the news that a client is leaving, you may be speechless, emotional and angry. But once you have had time to take a deep breath, it is important to understand why. Ask direct questions about why they are leaving. There is great value to be learned from these conversations. Document the comments and be willing to listen with an open mind. You just may learn something that will stop other clients from leaving.
Apologize for any errors. If you learn that service was an issue, do not get defensive, but instead apologize. Determine together if there is a solution that can be made other than termination. If their decision is final, then learn from the mistakes made and work with your team to eliminate the possibility that similar errors will occur again.
Do take it personally. Take the opportunity and evaluate your service model. Make improvements. Leave your ego behind and take advantage of this chance to learn at both a personal and organizational level.
Ask for referrals. A client may be leaving for reasons beyond your control and may have had a positive experience with your company. They may have benefitted from your services, but do not have a need for them anymore. Use this time as an opportunity to ask for other contacts that might benefit from your services.
Leave the door open. Sometimes losing a client may be a blessing in disguise, but most of the time, it is not advantageous. We have a handful of clients who have briefly left our service thinking the grass is greener elsewhere. With more competition out there, it is natural for people to want to try new things. However, if you handle the termination process with integrity and treat the client with respect and humility, you can ensure that if the grass is not greener, they will come back to you. Believe me; there is no better call than when an old client asks if the door is still open for their business.
Remember the Golden Rule. We have all been on the other side and have had to end relationships for different reasons. I recently had to end a business service because we no longer needed what they were providing. I dreaded making the call and expected them to try to talk me out of it, sell me something different, or inform me that I was contractually obligated to stay on longer. Instead, I was thanked for my business, informed of the next steps, and given a firm date when billing would end. It was a surprisingly pleasant experience, and if I ever need that service again, I know who I will call.
Nobody wants to lose a client, but in the real world, this is an inevitability that all businesses face. Therefore, it is important to have the proper exit procedures in place and be willing to learn from each experience. Act with integrity and never burn your bridges. Consider the experience a growth opportunity and embrace the possibilities to better your organization.