Losing a client can be a tough blow personally and professionally, and it can be hard to see a silver lining. But if you can swallow your pride and remember a few key points, it doesn’t have to be a total loss.
At SiteLoom we recently lost a major client, and we didn’t even see it coming
Our suspicion was aroused when a competing agency tweeted that they were looking for developers in our client’s niche industry.
We knew our competitor had previously been interested in the client, and the next day we started getting reports of 404 pages aimed at a new subdomain: “new.bigclient.com”. I responded to the client’s 404 reports and at the end added a classic Columbo – “Oh, and just one more thing…”:
“A ‘new’ subdomain usually means that a new system is being tested. Is there something we should know about?”
This was followed by a wink-wink, nudge-nudge phone conversation with my contact on the inside. He couldn’t say much, but changes were coming and that was all he would say for now. And sure enough, we received the bad news shortly therafter.
Fortunately these things don’t happen very often, but when they do it can be helpful to remember a few things, once the initial shock and dissapointment has worn off. Chances are, it will happen again.
Don’t burn bridges
Breakups can be bad, and there can be an initial tempation to exact a measure of passive-aggressive-revenge by either making the transition to their new system difficult, or by simply giving their final tasks the lowest possible priority.
Avoid this temptation. Stay professional.
Just as first impressions last, so do final ones, and during a breakup you have every opportunity to make that final impression a good one. Remember that your client probably has put off informing you of their departure, exactly because they expect their quality of service to degrade the moment their intentions are clear.
Surprise them. Treat them like your most important customer, and you are likely to get a number of things like a personal and positive recommendation, or positive word-of-mouth about your company to other potential clients.
Leave the door open for return business
New business always starts off in a honeymoon phase. Things are great, the system is great, the client is happy.
That’s how it was when the client came to you, and that’s likely how it will be with their new provider.
But inevitably things won’t stay that way. Relationships can become tense, unexpected bills argued over, the system not perform as expected.
Somewhere down the line the client might end up dissatisfied with their new system, hopefully even remembering the good old days with you. Or maybe they simply made a mistake and were better off with you.
At this point it becomes crucial how you dealt with the breakup. The client needs to feel assured that they are welcome back, and that there are no hard feelings.
Learn from the situation
Often you can lose a client because of financial or political reasons. Reasons that have nothing to do with you, or with the service you provided.
But of course there may be times when small signals went unnoticed, and when a client genuinely moved on because they weren’t satisfied with something, but for some reason didn’t let you know.
Take advantage of this situation to gather feedback – what went wrong, could it have been avoided? Getting honest feedback from a departing client can be difficult, and it is particularly hard if you haven’t stayed professional throughout.
Also, now might be a good time to send out those customer satisfaction surveys you’ve been putting off.
Chances are, your departing client feels sorry they are leaving, and in this feeling there is room for compensation other than getting their business back. Take advantage of this feeling, get your gushing linkedin recommendations. It’s the least they can do…