Slip Out the Back, Jack: When a Customer Gives You the Heave-Ho
BY Kimberly McCall
OK, I admit it: I've been jilted. Not often, mind you. In fact, only once. We business owners know the object of the game is to hold on to all of our quality customers and minimize attrition. But even with diligence and devotion, the unthinkable still happens.
In my case, the client decided to bring their marketing function in-house. And in a flashback to eighth grade, it all ended with a brief "let's be friends" phone call. But that didn't make the gut punch any easier to take - the embarrassment over losing a high-profile account, the dismay about a nice chunk of business saying sayonara, and the terror of losing a healthy portion of my income. Although it may not prevent you from losing a customer, let me tell you what I learned from the experience. You may be heartened by the news, even when despairing over your breakup.
If you have a little basket, beware of big eggs. I'm a solo business owner, so I have a very finite number of billable hours each month. I was spending far too much time on one client's needs, while failing to keep my pipeline full of new potential accounts. And much to my chagrin, when I became "ready" to take on a new client, my phone remained mockingly silent.
Beware of letting one client have too much control over the financial health of your business. Just as your portfolio of stocks and bonds must be diversified, so must your client list. Take care to nurture relationships you have with smaller accounts that have growth potential, and always be in touch with your referral network, even when times are booming.
It's a learning experience. If someone says this to you immediately after you've been dumped, you may want to thump them. But every time you strike out, what you learn from it is worth gold. A misstep, or even a debacle, can provide you with insights to your sales and customer service process that you may not have thought of otherwise. Think of it as excruciatingly painful market research.
Understand the real reason they left. Money? Service? Change in business priorities? Make sure you get a clear understanding of exactly what motivated the decision. Dig a little bit to get to the nitty-gritty.
Every time a door hits you on the way out, a new door opens. This one takes a bit of belief in the karmic nature of business. But trust me, if you've been doing well by people all along, providing a valuable service, and continuously marketing yourself, you'll rebound from the slump in grand style. In my case, I've been able to take on clients and projects that I otherwise would not have had time for.
The first (or next) time a client hands you your hat, don't be devastated, be prepared.