Professional relationships with clients form the core of any agency. However, there are times when a client just doesn’t suit the way the agency does business. When this happens, and all means of reconciliation fail, the agency must figure out how to break it off with the customer.
Like an interpersonal relationship, a client “breakup” can have severe repercussions on how the company is seen, both by their existing customers and any potential leads they might have. Ten members of Forbes Agency Council discuss the best way that a business can let a problematic client down easy so that the broken relationship doesn’t impact its other prospects.
1. Always Be Ethical And Transparent
Whether personalities clash or the customer needs a fresh perspective, you always want to be transparent and grab the bull by the horns. Long-term, your reputation means more than the money, and staying ethical throughout the process is key. It’s always terrible to see new clients come to us and have issues where the last agency won’t give them access to their site or assets that they paid for. – Blake George, BMG Media Co.
2. Keep It As Professional As Always
When you come to the big decision to end your relationship with a client, there may be a lot of emotions involved that could threaten to influence the way you handle the event. However, this is still a professional relationship and you still need to be respectful to what may have been a great client in the past. Be honest with them, but never become impolite. – Dmitrii Kustov, Regex SEO
3. Take Responsibility For The Decision
The best information is delivered first person, candidly, without blame. Take responsibility for your decision. Elaborating as to reasons may or may not be necessary. Sometimes a direct, “We no longer feel we are a good fit. I believe you can find another agency who can serve you better” says it all. Then, it is the agency’s responsibility to offer an orderly transition. – Dian Griesel, Dian Griesel International & Silver Disobedience Inc.
4. Do It Immediately
The worst thing you can do when you know that a client is not a good fit for your agency is to drag it out. It is a waste of your time and theirs. The moment you know the fit is not correct, respectfully end it. It is not always an easy conversation to have, but it only gets harder the longer you delay. – Zachary Binder, Bell + Ivy
5. Create A Smooth Transition
Even if the relationship isn’t working, I always strive to ensure that the client’s experience with our agency stays as positive as possible through the end. We provide “transition documents” that outline any essential information for the account including logins and passwords for anything we set up. We also make sure that the client has access to any content or graphics created for them. – Alex Membrillo, Cardinal Digital Marketing
6. Preserve Mutual Respect
I recently had such a meeting. It was at a neutral location just in case it didn’t go well. Surprisingly, it was the client who recognized the inequity and asked to be terminated. I respectfully acknowledged that the parting was probably for the best. Preserving mutual respect was my paramount concern going into the meeting. We were able to part amicably. – Greg Demetriou, Lorraine Gregory Communications
7. Never Set The Bridge On Fire
Leave as professionally and kindly as possible, as you never know who at the company may have been impressed with the work you did — despite the challenges — and perhaps call you in the future as they move to their next venture. This has proven true many times over in our 20 years of business. Plus, it always feels better to end on a positive note, versus a sour one. – Carm Lyman, Lyman Agency
8. Don’t Leave Them Hanging
Give your client a suggested set of action steps to help them transition (perhaps to another agency). You can even consider recommending another agency as an olive branch. Agencies who need to initiate a breakup should remember that, like shoes, clients are not always going to fit. They are not wrong or broken. They just simply don’t fit. Even in a breakup, you can be part of their solution. – Bernard May, National Positions
9. Communicate And Offer An Alternative
Clear and professional communication is key. Set the right expectations from the beginning, so you can refer to that if the end has to come early. But also create partnerships that are able to accommodate (and want to work with) those who may not be a good fit for you. That way, if you have to break up early, you can present an alternative that would be a better fit. – Rafael Romis, Weberous Web Design
10. Remember The Business And Client Are Different
Keep in mind that you’re breaking up with the business, not the person. We once had to break up with a Fortune 100 company because the business just wasn’t profitable — and the client was my next-door neighbor. Years later, she’s still one of my favorite people and we’re still good friends. – Elizabeth Baskin, Tribe, Inc.