Published - May 2005

By Dave Jakielo

When You Hear the Door Slam
Why Good Companies Lose Good Clients

Most companies with any longevity have, at some time, experienced the loss of a long-time client whom they thought was pleased with their services. The companies come away from the experience scratching their heads wondering what went wrong. It's one thing to lose a client when we have stumbled and not provide them with quality service, but it hurts more when we know we are doing a good job, but the client leaves us anyway.

Clients rarely leave for no reason at all. Usually, we have simply missed the clues. The following are a few examples from my experience as to what may have happened when a good client heads for the door. Hopefully they will sound a warning bell and ensure that you will not be caught off guard.

The Squeaky-Wheel-Gets-the-Oil Syndrome. Sometimes we have a tendency to concentrate our attention and service on the challenging clients-the ones who never seem to be satisfied no matter what level of service we provide. The trap, of course, is that by expending an enormous effort trying to fulfill the needs of the complaining client, we don't have enough time left over to pay attention to some of our best clients.

The Languishing Relationship Disorder. Because our client has seemed happy with our services for years and no pressing issues have arisen, we have a tendency to take the client for granted. We fall into a comfort zone and neglect to continue to manage the relationship. For example, those once-monthly meetings have become more infrequent as the months and years pass.

The New Powers-That-Be Order. The person you have interacted with since the beginning of your relationship is getting close to retirement and has slowly been relinquishing his authority and decision making to other partners. The new decision makers decide that they want to run things their way, and their way may not include you.

The Deserting-the-Ship Action. A client may simply decide he no longer wants to be captain of his ship and decides to sell, merge, or move from being an entrepreneur to becoming an employee. This usually means that he no longer need our services and tells us thanks for the memories.

The Right-Makes-Might Manifesto. Sometimes we forget the two basic rules of client service: 1) The client is always right, and 2) When you think the client is wrong, refer to rule number one.

Below are a few strategies that if implemented may keep you from losing good clients.

Evaluate Demanding Clients. Ask yourself if they are really worth the effort. Should you retain them as a client or should you allow them to move on and make someone else's life difficult? Another interesting fact about a challenging client is that we usually aren't making any money servicing their needs; often they eat up more resources than they are paying for.

Track Changing Meeting Patterns. A caution flag should go up if your client's meeting pattern changes. You may think the client doesn't want to meet because everything is "peachy;" however, it maybe that the client just doesn't want to confront you about why he is unhappy. Or the client hasn't the time to meet with you because he is meeting with your competitor.

Develop Multiple Relationships. It is imperative to develop relationships with each and every partner within a client's organization to ensure you are perceived as a valuable member of their team. When you interact with only one individual in a practice, the other members have no idea what value you may or may not bring to the table.

Maintain Perspective. Remember the cardinal rule: no client should be more than 20 percent of your company's revenue. By adhering to this rule your company won't be devastated if a client does leave. It's shocking enough when you lose a good client; it can become overwhelming if you have to downsize your staff too.

I wish retaining clients was a science and that a fool-proof checklist could help ensure that no one walks out your door. Unfortunately, no such magical formula exists. Hopefully, some of the points listed above will remind you that you must constantly be in a "client service" mode and that one of your main responsibilities is to ensure that everyone on your team realizes that clients are the most important facets of our businesses.

I wish you continued success with all your good clients!

Dave Jakielo, Seminars and Consulting, 86 Hall Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15205. Phone and Fax numbers are 412-921-0976. Email Website - Sign up at for free tips delivered to you by e-mail

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