Despite every effort, many companies are destined to lose a client or customer at some point. Sometimes they leave because they’re unhappy, or maybe another vendor makes an offer that suits their business needs better at the moment. Other times clients leave without giving a clear reason.
In any case, losing a client can be a difficult situation, but by seizing the opportunity to understand why the client left, businesses have a chance to learn, grow, and hopefully prevent future departures.
Nobody likes rejection, but separating business decisions from emotions following a client departure can be the first step toward building a productive conversation that benefits both sides. You never know – by handling the situation grace and professionalism, you might just keep them in the fold after all.
Once emotions are kept at bay, these strategies for responding to a departing client have made the biggest difference in my career.
1. Have a Live Conversation to Address Your Client’s Concerns
A client’s decision to leave can be serious, but not necessarily final if you respond appropriately. Try to start by learning the reasons behind the decision. The best way to get a true understanding of the situation can be a live conversation; emails and text messages can be too prone to misinterpretation. You can ask the difficult questions to understand your client’s reasons for leaving. Although some reasons, like budget constraints, may be beyond your control, this can be your opportunity to rectify the situation. You can carefully listen to their responses, acknowledge your responsibilities, and be prepared to present a clear plan to resolve their issues, if appropriate.
Even if your client ultimately does decide to leave, a live conversation can offer a chance to identify areas in need of improvement and implement changes that will make it less likely other clients leave.
2. Say Thank You – and Mean It
If your client still wishes to leave after a live conversation, you can be respectful of their decision. Despite any mixed emotions you may feel in the wake of losing a client, you can ensure they know how much you’ve appreciated the opportunity to serve them. Although they may be moving on, they’ve supported your business, and gratitude can go a long way in leaving a lasting impression. It can help preserve your professional reputation. You never know who former clients may speak to in the future, so try to make sure their final interactions with you (at least for now) are positive.
By seizing the opportunity to understand why the client left, businesses have a chance to learn, grow, and hopefully prevent future departures.
3. Keep Your Door Open
While it can be difficult to hear a client has decided to move on, remember the old adage: “The only constant in life is change.” Although clients may leave, they sometimes may return. Perhaps they left due to budget constraints, but a recent cash infusion from an investor has given them room to capitalize on new resources. Such situations are why it’s so important to let departing clients know you’d love an opportunity to work with them again. Handling the situation with grace and gratitude can be essential to maintaining an ongoing relationship.
4. Ask to Stay in Touch
After losing a client, consider making a note to check in at both the 30-day and 90-day mark. Why reach out rather than wait for my phone to ring? I've found when customers regret their decisions to leave, they can sometimes be embarrassed to admit it and may hesitate to reach out to me.
Sometimes former clients can have an immediate problem with their new service provider. Contacting them after 30 days can give me an opportunity to let them know we’re available to help immediately. Some companies may take more time to settle in with new providers. After 90 days, most are typically past the transition phase, making it a prime time to see how they’re doing. If nothing else, you’ve kept the lines of communication open. It’s about letting them know you’re there versus being pushy.
5. Focus on Finding New Customers
One of my favorite strategies for dealing with a lost client is to calculate how much time my team and I spent serving them, then dedicate the same amount of time to bringing in three new clients. It helps turn what could be perceived as a negative situation into something positive that keeps our focus on the future and all the great work we’ll accomplish.
In some cases, as a result of focusing on finding new clients, I’ve managed to land new business that’s even more profitable than what I’ve lost. The key is quickly turning your focus to growth, rather than just replacing a lost client. Focusing on growth can help reinvigorate your company. As an added bonus, you won’t waste energy lamenting the loss.
6. Debrief Your Team and Retool Your Approach
Sometimes we lose clients because we didn't meet their needs as well as we could have. When clients leave, it can be helpful to set aside our frustrations, figure out where we failed or fell short, and ensure it doesn’t happen again. That’s why I suggest taking the lessons learned from your live conversation with a departing client and using them as a teaching moment for your entire organization. You can sit down with your team and take a good, hard look at how you can improve so you can retain and better serve existing clients. Try to develop a clear plan to address your company’s shortcomings. By rethinking your approach, you may be able to come out stronger, better, and more profitable.
7. Be Grateful for the Opportunities
This last step may have more to do with your mindset than your bottom line. Our customers put their faith, trust, and dollars in us, and that can be an awesome thing. On a personal level, being grateful for the opportunities you've had – even if they come to an end – can be healthier than resenting customers who leave. Focusing on the positives and looking forward to experiencing more great opportunities in the future can help you quickly bounce back.
Business relationships don't always last forever. They can grow and evolve, just as our personal relationships do. When clients leave, you can remain true to your authentic self, express gratitude, end things on a positive note, and embrace the opportunity to continually deliver excellent service to the clients you have. This commitment to excellence won’t only help you serve your existing customers, but can even bring you new ones in the future.
A version of this article was originally published on February 24, 2017.