When client-facing employees leave, it can feel like you’re starting over with the customers they serve. Despite the extra work, there is an upside.
This can be the perfect opportunity to reiterate your company’s strengths and your commitment to quality service. All it takes is a little extra time and attention to ensure you retain, and even grow, the affected accounts.
Central to a successful transition is that you treat these customers as if they’re new accounts.
Here are some steps to help ensure your clients feel 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 clients who will be affected, explaining that the employee is leaving your company. Reassure them by emphasizing that your commitment to responsiveness and client satisfaction has not changed.
This notification should include as much detail as possible, such as the employee’s last day, how the transition will work and who will service their account in the meantime. Proactive communication will help customers avoid submitting orders or requests once the employee is no longer with the company. Giving clients a heads-up far enough out may also help prevent departing employees from poaching your clients, in the event they’re going to work for a competitor.
If the transition is for positive reasons, like a promotion within the company or a move to another state to be near family, let clients know. After all, they’ve built a relationship with the employee who’s leaving, and focusing on the positives allows them the opportunity to see the transition in a more optimistic light. You may even want to include the outgoing employee in the communication process.
If your employee leaves for negative reasons or the client has heard rumors, be prepared to answer your customers’ questions as truthfully as possible. However, you should never provide details about an involuntary separation or termination. Keep it simple by saying that the employee left to pursue other opportunities.
2. Review accounts in danger of walking
As mentioned above, your competitors may recruit your employees away due to the relationships they’ve 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.
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.
3. Assign transition support
If the departing employee handled multiple accounts, be sure to divide customers appropriately among your remaining staff.
For major accounts, name a manager or experienced individual as the main point of contact for the affected clients if you can’t assign a new account person immediately. For smaller but long-term or high-value customers, you’ll want to assign your most qualified team members.
You want these clients to feel like they’re a top 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 the transition team on any insider tips about working with this client. For example, go over communication preferences, major deadlines promised, and the history of the relationship. Make clear to the transition team that they must reassure the client of your company’s commitment to quality and responsiveness, both verbally and through their actions.
4. Outline the transition plan
Ideally, your company has a contingency plan in place before someone leaves so you’re not scrambling to take care of clients.
But regardless of when the plan is created, a few elements are required.
Outline responsibilities and how quickly you want things to happen. Plan transition meetings internally and with the clients. Be sure to address anything that will change, from paperwork to personnel or procedures. Document any upcoming major deadlines. Regular communication among the entire team is vital to a smooth transition.
5. Meet with your clients
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.
Go in with an open mind, just as you would with a completely new client. Now is your chance to ask, “What are we doing right, and what can we improve on?” Try to get to the bottom of any problems by listening intently so you and the transition team can root out any causes for dissatisfaction.
Use this opportunity to re-emphasize the advantages of working with your company and explain how the transition will proceed. Nothing will make your client feel better about losing a beloved account rep than knowing they’re in good hands during the transition.
Who knows? You may find there are up-sell opportunities or pain points you can relieve.
6. Introduce the replacement
Once you find a replacement, be sure to introduce him or her to your clients (face to face if these are large accounts). 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 been promoted from within or has worked in your client’s industry before, point that out. Your goal is to build trust and common ground to help nurture the new relationship along.
A phone introduction may work just fine for smaller accounts that are normally handled by telephone, email or online. Do what feels right based on the client’s preferences and the history of the account.
7. Over deliver
Particularly if a client mentions ways your company could improve, or how they’ll be inconvenienced by the change, aim to over deliver.
For example, try to meet a deadline early, provide a complimentary report or surprise them with a discount. 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.
Consider a team philosophy
A team approach to servicing customers can be one of the best ways to ensure a smooth transition when one of your client-facing employees leaves.
Rather than one person always serving as the single point of contact for an account, consider restructuring your team so that there’s a main point of contact with one or two other backup team members who are familiar with the client. These “backups” can substitute for the main contact on vacation, sick days or parental leave, and offer the added bonus of getting your team cross-trained on other accounts.
Best of all, a team philosophy to handling accounts can reassure the customer that they’ll be taken care of – no matter what.
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