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CUSTOMER SERVICE

When a Client Relationship May Be at Risk: 3 Red Flags
 

Here's how to be vigilant and make sure your customers stay your customers--for good.

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I remember reading What Your Clients Won't Tell You and Your Managers Don't Know by John Gamble. This great book has become a go-to resource as I define a "clients for life" philosophy.

But no matter what processes and monitoring I put in place, I still end up surprised sometimes by a client who decides to end a relationship with us.  I hate that kind of surprise.  Why didn't we know?  Did we miss warning signs?  How strong was our relationship?

To prevent this, my team and I developed a list of "triggers" that put us on high alert about the security of a particular customer.

Here it is:

Client requests a copy of our contract.

This is the easiest one!  If the client has to look at the contract, something is up.

Client goes silent.

When an engaged client becomes non-responsive, he could be considering other options.

Organizational or personnel changes on either side.

In his book, Gamble makes a very telling statement: "When people change, everything changes."

So, if your primary contact leaves, you need to assume that you're going to need to "sell" your business all over again.  You no longer have a trusted ally to help your business relationship stay the course.

Whether it's because of a personnel change or something else, I've also learned the reasons that a client chose us in the first place may differ from the reasons he would stay with us today.  Gamble calls this the "value gap."

Our clients buy from us based on some combination of quality, cost, and service.  Years later, priorities can change.  We have had clients who valued high quality and were willing to pay a high price for it.  But when service became less important, cost became an issue, and they looked for a low-cost provider.

You have to constantly prove you offer a valuable product and service to your clients.  At Beryl, we have found the best way to stay on top of client relationships is to have at least an annual "business review" session with all stakeholders so that we can validate, reeducate, and reset expectations.

If you ever get too comfortable and start believing that a client will never leave you, you've already opened the door for him to go.

IMAGE: iStock
Last updated: Sep 24, 2012

PAUL SPIEGELMAN is the chief culture officer at Stericycle and founder and former CEO of BerylHealth. He also co-founded the Small Giants Community with Inc. editor-at-large Bo Burlingham. You can read more at PaulSpiegelman.com.
@paulspiegelman




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