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We Just Lost a Big Client. What to Do

Learn from four big mistakes. Then get up, dust off, and jump back in the game.
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We just lost a big and important customer.  We don't lose customers very often, and if we do, in most cases, I can rationalize why the client made the wrong decision to leave us.  In this case, I had no excuses—the client made the right decision, and it hurt. 

For the last 18 months, we at the Beryl Companies have been working on a completely new technology platform that will impact all aspects of our current and future business.  It is very exciting and will further solidify our leadership role in the health care services industry.  Unfortunately, our clients don't really care what happens two years from now.  They have current needs that must be met, and if not, they'll bolt.

Here are the mistakes and hard lessons we learned this time:

1. We chose not to invest in short-term solutions.

We had a few products that, while not big revenue generators for the company, were not performing well.  Our clients were frustrated to the point that it was starting to impact the larger revenue business we had with them.  Rather than make short-term investments that might have solved their current needs, we chose to invest the time and money in the longer-term solution.  Big mistake.  Long-term projects always take longer and cost more than expected, and can't come at the expense of current offerings.

2. We didn't deliver on the promises we made.

Clients are generally very patient and reasonable.  But when you make a promise and don't deliver, you lose trust, and credibility.  It is unacceptable to let a deadline pass without proactive communication.  If you make a promise, deliver on it.  If you can't, communicate in advance, and you'll likely find a client very willing to negotiate a new date.

3. We were arrogant enough to believe we were untouchable.

By most accounts, we are the best in our industry and have a stellar reputation.  We have a client retention rate in the high 90s.  Even still, if we let our guard down and lose trust, our clients will leave us.  There is a big difference between loyalty and satisfaction.  Loyal customers will forgive mistakes and stay with you—they won't shop.  Satisfied clients are open to alternatives, and when things go south and another option presents itself, the risk of a change is lower than the risk of staying with you.  Always look to build trust and loyalty.   

4. We didn't listen

In general, silence is not golden.  A quiet client is an unengaged client and should raise a red flag.  What's worse is a client who is engaged, tells you exactly where you stand, and then you still don't deliver.  That's what happened with us. We should always listen, and always respond to our clients.

What are the positives that came out of this situation?  First, we were fortunate that this client doesn't represent a large chunk of our revenue (less than 1%).  We learned that lesson years ago when the loss of a big client took us two years to recover from. 

Second, this situation gave our team and me a needed kick in the pants.  We're learning from our mistakes, reprioritizing which projects we need to fix immediately, and putting in place stronger triggers so we know when a client is "at risk". In the end, I know we'll be better for it. 

Last updated: Apr 4, 2012

PAUL SPIEGELMAN | Columnist | CEO of BerylHealth

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.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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