A little extra time and attention goes a long way toward ensuring you retain the affected accounts. It starts with early notice of the employee's exit and includes your direct involvement in the transition.
And central to a successful transition is your renewed commitment to service – as though they’re a new account.
Here are some steps that can help ensure your clients are well taken care of and stay with you when an employee leaves.
1. Give clients advance notice
As soon as you become aware of an employee’s plans to leave, immediately notify affected clients, explaining that the employee is leaving your company. Reassure them by emphasizing that your commitment to responsiveness and overall client satisfaction has not changed.
If the transition is positive, it's okay to include the outgoing employee in the communication process. For example, if he is moving to another job and you understand why, then a three-way conversation might be appropriate.
This notification also lets the customers know that the employee is no longer with the company. That way they know not to submit orders to or accept business from the departed employee.
If your employee leaves for negative reasons or the client has heard rumors, be prepared to answer your customers’ questions as truthfully as possible, but remain upbeat about the situation. It’s okay to say that the employee is leaving to pursue other professional experiences or endeavors.
In some cases, your competitors may recruit your employees away due to the relationships they have already established with your clients. If this happens to you, immediately pull your team together and review the accounts assigned to this person, evaluating the at-risk level for each of them. Notify all of the clients in writing and meet face-to-face with those you think may be at-risk. If you can tap into your relationships with key decision makers at those companies, you should be able to retain the accounts from the departing employee’s book of business.
2. Assign backup support
For the transition period, name an executive as the main point of contact for the affected clients. You want these clients to feel like they're high priority.
Depending on the nature of the work, you may also want to assign a subject matter expert to the account, especially if it’s going to take a month or longer to replace the employee.
Brief this backup person on any insider tips related to working with this client. For example, go over communication preferences and major events throughout the course of the relationship. Also, be aware of any deadlines promised and reassure the clients of your company’s commitment to quality and responsiveness.
3. Meet with your clients
Now is your chance to ask, “What can we improve on?” Set up a time to have coffee, lunch or another meal with your clients. You want to stay positive and re-establish relations with your clients. Also, focus on what you do right. Re-emphasize the advantages of working with your company.
4. Introduce the replacement
Once you find a replacement, be sure to introduce him or her to your clients (face-to-face if at all possible), and use the meeting as an opportunity to talk about how the new employee’s experience and unique qualities will benefit them. For example, if the replacement has worked in or with your client’s industry in the past, point that out to build trust and common ground that can help nurture the new relationship along.
5. Outline the transition
Work out a transition plan to move the client from the backup support to the new employee, including responsibilities and how quickly you want things to happen. Plan transition meetings with the clients and internally. Be sure to address what will not be done anymore. Regular communication among the entire team is critical to a smooth transition.
6. Over deliver
Whatever the clients have mentioned to you about ways to improve, aim to over deliver. For example, try to meet a deadline early, provide a complimentary report or surprise them with a discount if possible. You want to show them that you keep your promises, that their business is important to you and that your company is still the best choice moving forward.
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Steve Moore is the director of human resource operations at Insperity. With more than 15 years of industry experience, Steve specializes in talent management, outplacement and change management. He holds a master’s in leadership and organizational development and is a Certified Human Resources Project Manager (HRPM).