Valentine’s Day, with its focus on roses, romance and relationships, can be fun for those who are happily coupled. Who doesn’t love a fun excuse to go out to dinner, make a fancy feast at home, or exchange candy treats? (Dark chocolate nonpareils for me, please.) Or even to just dispense with the hoopla and enjoy a Netflix binge with takeout together?
But if you are unhappily single, this Hallmark holiday can sting and may even leave you dwelling on a past relationship and why it may have failed.
While this is a crappy way to spend a day when it seems everyone else has something to celebrate, there is value in exploring why a partnership soured. And not just your romantic ones. In business, taking time to figure out why a client left can offer valuable lessons.
Here are three reasons why clients leave—and what we can all learn from them.
1. Failure to Launch
When a potential client engages with your business for the first time, your company delivers a promise of what it could be like to work with you—how your product or service will make their life or business easier, richer, or healthier.
Your website, emails, ads, social media posts and sales team pledge to earn the prospect’s business and ultimately their long-term loyalty by driving an outstanding deliverable and experience. The prospect decides to take the plunge and spend money with you. Everyone feels good, there are Thank you for your business and Welcome messages shared.
But something happens when the prospect becomes a customer. It may not be a big disaster with the first order, it can be something subtler that starts to erode the good feeling garnered during the sales process. Someone on your service team irritates the client during an interaction, there are inconsistencies as business transitions from sales to operations, or small mistakes start to multiply.
The honeymoon stage in a client engagement should be a time when everyone feels good:
- Trust is built
- The decision to buy is validated
- A foundation for a lasting relationship is laid.
When that does not happen, it can be tempting for your client to cut early losses and move on. Make sure you are doing all you can to ensure a successful onboarding experience.
2. Misunderstood Expectations
In any relationship, both parties have expectations of what they will give and what they will get. The client pays your business with certain goals tied not only to the specific deliverables—a quality product or professional service—but also to the outcomes those things will help them achieve.
It’s important to understand the real reason your customer buys from you. In some cases, it will be straightforward... "I need these parts manufactured on time and on budget and on spec. Meet those expectations consistently and you are successful." Other times, and especially when you are hired for your expertise or you're delivering a professional service, it’s important to clarify what your client is truly seeking.
- What does a successful engagement look like for your client?
- How and when will communications happen during your engagement?
- How will work be delivered, reviewed and finalized?
- What are potential obstacles and how can they be avoided?
- What are payment terms?
These are just some of the things that should be ironed out when engaging with a new client. Have complete clarity of their expectations and aim to exceed them, but be honest if you know something sounds unrealistic.
3. Your Client’s Circumstances Change
The “It’s not you, it’s me” breakup line has become a cliché for good reason. Circumstances and people change and sometimes a partner is not able or willing to adapt. Sure, sometimes it just feels like a nice way to let someone down, but there is almost always some truth to the line.
The situation applies to business breakups, too. Your client’s personal life, career or goals may lead to their not needing your company anymore. When this happens, some clients will silently start disengaging while others will be more transparent.
Sometimes, you can avoid this type of client loss. A study from the Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences delved into client breakups and some signs you may see before it happens.
Looking at your current clients, think about whether you have you done all you can to:
- Cross-sell your products and services so clients are not buying just one thing from you.
- Build relationships with more than one person on the client side—family and friends discounts/referrals, introductions into other departments within a client company, etc.
- Anticipate and plan for potential changes on the client side to adapt with them if possible. How will they need you if their company moves, grows, or contracts? Can they still use your service if they move out of your area? Thinking through these inevitable situations may help you avoid losing a client.
Getting new clients is hard and breakups stink. Keeping these three potential hazards in mind can position you to keep more customers than you lose.
And they may even help you keep that romantic relationship alive, too. Happy Valentine’s Day!