Something isn’t right. Your client has been dodging phone calls, acting distant, and seeming evasive when you bring up plans for the next phase of a project. When you finally reach them, you can tell something is amiss. Maybe they say, “Our company is changing priorities,” or maybe it’s, “Financially, we recognized that some cuts are needed.” No matter how many times they tell you it isn’t personal, the break-up is abrupt and disturbing. You’ve just lost a major client; what do you do?
It’s totally natural to feel angry and even a little depressed. You may even feel personally attacked or wounded. But if you want to learn from this experience, it’s important to move on from the initial emotion and make sense of what happened.
Simply reacting is never the best solution. Even if the client is leaving for what you’d consider unfair reasons, there’s no point in burning a bridge. A few small steps can help you learn, grow, and hopefully prevent the same things from happening in the future.
Ask the client why they left.
Swallow your pride and find out what went wrong. Sometimes, they really do mean it when they say it isn’t you. But if it was you, find out what happened to prevent it from happening again. Don’t argue or debate; use this time to listen and learn. The decision has been made, and there’s no point in trying to change their mind.
Did you understand their expectations?
Communication is essential in any relationship—a business relationship is no different. Were you both on the same page? Did you correctly understand their expectations for the partnership? Were deadlines set and met? What about deliverables? Did you set goals for the work? All of these items go a long way in understanding what might be causing change.
Were you able to meet their expectations?
Sometimes, a relationship simply needs to end. Maybe their expectations exceeded the capabilities of your firm, or their expectations and their budget simply were not compatible. There is nothing wrong with that! Or, were they looking for you to provide services that are outside of your area of expertise? Knowing all of the facts and conducting a fair internal evaluation is always healthy.
Ask yourself if this is an isolated incident or part of a bigger issue.
Often, clients leave simply because they need to make cuts. In these cases, they’re isolated. But if it had nothing to do with cuts, are you the problem? Is there a bigger issue within the agency that needs to be addressed? This may be a good time to perform an internal audit of your company and its processes. It is important to learn exactly what went wrong. Refresh your employees on the vital importance of fantastic customer service in every single interaction with clients. Ensure that you have the right employees interacting with clients. That client’s interaction with their account manager is often their sole representation of your company. If this manager fails to represent the company the way he/she should, your entire organization receives a poor reputation. Remember, it costs significantly more to attract a new customer than to retain one; so put the time, effort, and money into ensuring you are doing everything you can to retain your clients and keep them happy.
Take a breath.
This may be the most important point. Take a step back, breathe, and keep things in perspective. Remind yourself of what is most important and understand that this is a small moment in the grand scheme of things. You will recover. Even if the decision to leave has been personal, there’s no need to react negatively.
Our big suggestion: Ask for a client exit interview.
Whether or not you know why they’re leaving your company, try conducting an exit interview just as you would with a departing employee. The awkward 20 minutes hearing about your business’ failings while wounds are raw will be difficult, but it could also present incredibly useful information that helps you move forward. If you and your client are not willing to do this via a call, create a simple form and allow the client to reply electronically. Pros and cons are always beneficial. What worked and what didn’t? How can you improve? How did you excel? Are they willing to be a reference even after ending the relationship?
Use this information as a learning tool. Brief your team on the responses. Ask for their points of view. Encourage self-evaluation and reflection—what can you learn from the feedback?
If you can put pride aside, there is usually some valuable data to be gathered from this process, even if losing a client can feel like a punch in the stomach.