“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” –George Bernard Shaw
The time has come for one of your key customers to renew their contract. You reach out… and…crickets. You leave a message. Nothing.
Something seems off, and you start to have a sinking feeling about what’s coming next. It’s one of the worst feelings a small business owner faces—losing an important, long-term client.
Regardless of what you’re currently feeling, very few customers walk away from a vendor without reason, and the warning signs usually present themselves well in advance of their exit. Your job as a business owner is to recognize those signs and do what you can to save the relationship.
Here are three classic warning signs that a client may be looking to jump ship and what to do to prevent it:
Warning Sign #1
The first obvious sign of client distress is a lack of communication. If the client is no longer engaging with you regularly, there’s a chance they’ve already checked out. This attempt to establish distance is the first step to ending the relationship. Far too many business owners make the mistake of assuming a quiet customer is a happy one. Not so. In fact, if you aren’t communicating regularly with your clients, they may be busy shopping around for a new vendor.
The Solution: Consistent communication reinforces the idea that this client is valuable and important to your business. A quick, personal message, or offer for lunch, could be all that’s needed to reset the relationship. Encourage the client to voice any issues so that you can work through them together. If you’re juggling multiple clients at once, consider setting up a client database to make sure you’re communicating frequently and effectively. Nurturing client relationships is crucial to your small business success.
Warning Sign #2
If a client is consistently questioning the value of your services or missing payment due dates, this should be a big red flag for you as a business owner. There are a few things that could be at the root of this, including problems with cash flow or the emergence of a cheaper and seemingly better solution.
The Solution: As a business owner, you not only have to excel at providing your service, you also must be able to show your clients the value you’re providing. Make sure you are consistently proving your worth by communicating results regularly to clients. If your main contact person is leaving, establish a relationship with his/her replacement as soon as possible to prevent losing business to a new, more familiar vendor. If there is evidence of a cash flow problem, be sensitive, but address it. Oftentimes, it’s just timing issues when it comes to money in and money out. Offer some creative solutions that will keep the client’s contract intact, but still provide you with cash in the bank.
Warning Sign #3
This one’s a no-brainer. If your client is unhappy with your product or service, don’t expect to keep them for long. And if they’re unhappy, you’re probably going to feel it and know it very quickly. Perhaps you’re consistently being pushed to meet unrealistic expectations or receiving frequent complaints on the quality or value of your deliverables.
The Solution: Even if the complaints are unwarranted, or out of the blue, it’s important that you take action immediately. Set up an in-person meeting. Not email, or text or phone. Get in front of an unhappy client as soon as possible if you want to have any hope of saving the contract. Truly listen to their concerns and provide detailed solutions where possible.
If you haven’t already, set up quarterly business reviews with each of your clients. This gives you the opportunity to present what you’ve already accomplished, set new goals for the quarter, and renew your rapport.
Customer satisfaction should be the front and center of your focus as a business owner. No client is guaranteed for the lifetime of a business, but there are certain actions you can take to help your chances of keeping your favorites.