June 21, 2018

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Saving Client Relationships

It finally happened. An Indian restaurant opened up two months ago in the city where I live in western North Carolina. For the six years when I lived in Phoenix I would eat religiously at all of the Indian food restaurants in town, becoming somewhat of a regular at many of them. Perhaps they put addictive substances in their food that kept bringing me back. Maybe so, but why even fight the urge. I was hooked.

To my dismay when I moved here to Asheville a year ago, there was only one sad little old Indian restaurant far away in a neighboring city. The food was pathetic and it was a very unclean establishment. But on April 23rd, a new Indian food restaurant opened up. Curry chicken. Palak paneer. Rice pudding. Hot Indian tea. The works. And it was very clean with crisp white linen table cloths, crystal candle holders and shiny new silverware. And the buffet was magnificent. I dined there on opening day. I almost couldn't fall asleep the night before because I was so excited. Once again, I had found a way to satisfy my Indian food urges on a weekly basis.

Three weeks ago, I was eating at my regular booth when I heard a lady in the booth behind me scream. And she screamed loudly. "There is GLASS in my food! Look! I'm pulling it out of my mouth! There's GLASS in my food!" And sure enough, one by one, she was pulling small crystals of glass out of her mouth and picking through her basmati rice, finding one piece of glass after another, laying right there on the plate in front of her.

My appetite quickly waned. I left the restaurant and vowed to never return. I never will. I never will.

Have you ever had a grave situation like this happen to you on your desk?

Perhaps it was a candidate who embezzled funds. Or maybe he or she falsified a college degree. Or maybe one of your recruiters dropped the ball and quit your firm right before the client became royally ticked off, and called you in to his office. All of these things have happened to me, so I can empathize with whatever crisis might be facing you right now. The odds are against you. Your client is irate and the relationship is in jeopardy.

How do you handle a crisis so severe that people vow never to do business with you again?

You will probably never win this client's business again, so you might as well accept that fact. Try to recover it, but don't get your hopes up. But it is still important how you handle yourself during this time, and this is why: People love to gossip about bad experiences. If you have caused a client to have a bad experience, whether or not it was your fault, then you might as well be emotionally prepared to lose the business. But you still need to bow out graciously. This is how you do it:

  1. Call the client and tell him or her that if there is anything that you can do to remedy the situation, to please call you. Chances are that he or she will never call you, but this simple message left on their voice mail will show that you at least tried to ameliorate the situation. Just the intention of doing this sends a signal that you are a professional and that you care.

  2. Follow up with a hand-written note that says the same thing. "Gary, I'm sorry for how this situation was handled by my former employee, but if there is anything I can do to help you in the future, please let me know." They will always remember the hand-written notes.

  3. Meet with them if you can. I have saved relationships by driving to my client's office and just sitting there, listening to them tell me how they felt about the situation. I put on an asbestos-lined suit before I go into their office, of course, but I know that they are reacting emotionally to a bad situation. I would probably feel the same way if I was in their shoes. "You seem frustrated with my firm's performance." Empathize with them. "I accept full responsibility for this situation, Jerry. Let me tell you how I am going to fix it for you and when I will do this." Make yourself accountable to your client. Take the hit and accept responsibility. People love to do business with people who refuse to pass the buck.

The intention to build goodwill is sometimes good enough. By taking these three steps to recovery, you might even win back the relationship. If you don't save it, at least you keep that client from telling all of his or her friends and colleagues how bad the experience of doing business with you was. But if you're going to lose, at least lose with your head up and keep their final memory of you a positive one.

- Scott Love

Copyright Scott Love

Scott Love improves the performance of recruiters and the margins of search firms by working as a trainer, consultant, coach, writer, blah blah blah. He is not only the most frequently published trainer in the industry, he is also the wackiest. To book him for your next association meeting or in-house training call him at 828-225-7700 to check his availability. His archive of over 120 free articles, tools and downloads for recruiters is at