11 October 2018

Never burn the bridge with your departing customer

By Steve Marsten
It continues to amaze me how some people in business get so upset when they receive news that their customer or client is changing suppliers. No matter how long a business relationship has lasted, there are always issues that crop up that will demand its termination. While some issues may be resolved amicably, others may not. Regardless of how each of your business relationships turn out, there is no reason to burn your bridges with your vendor or supply partner.
Your ex-customer is still valuable to you. Besides paying for your product or services, customers also play a very important role in word of mouth referrals. So while you may not be monetising a customer who no longer does business with you, they may still play a critical role in influencing opinions of new prospects who are looking to buy from you. By treating your ex-customers with honour and respect, you are likely to retain their goodwill which goes a long way in bringing new customers to your business.
The other important thing is ex-customers can always return. There are several reasons why a customer chooses to end a relationship. A customer or client may no longer have a need for your product or service. Other times, they may be lured by cheaper quotes from your competitors. None of these indicate a permanent departure and it is always a chance for them to come back. By keeping your door open to these ex-customers and not burning bridges, you keep the option of their return open.
So how do you not burn your bridges with a customer? A lot of times, businesses fail to realise that the bridge is being burnt through the process of business termination.
Always try and make your termination process as simple as your sign up process is. For instance, if you have a sales person drive down to your customer’s office to complete formalities during the sign up process, make sure you have an employee do the same for termination as well. Many businesses bend over backwards during customer onboarding but fail to do this during termination. This leaves the customer frustrated and unlikely to return.
Differences over issues like pricing are generally resolved amicably. But what happens when larger issues crop up? Many times, customers may breach the terms of your contract even without realizing it. In such cases, do not be quick to engage lawyers. Instead, try to resolve these differences amicably.  
There are times when you may be required to fire a client either because they are difficult to work with, or they want you to do something unethical. While the instinctual reaction is to call them out on their actions, a better way to do this is by terminating the contract without directly blaming anyone. The best way to fire a client without burning bridges however is by explicitly keeping the door open by ending your email with something non-committal as ‘hope we cross paths again in future’. This provides an opportunity for the client to come back to you in future should your pending differences be resolved by then. For more information on dealing with upset customers or suppliers call the team at UHY Haines Norton on 4972 1300.

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