Your agency is in the business of relationship management.
Your agency wouldn’t be where it is today without the ability to secure and maintain healthy client relationships. What does that mean exactly? It means that whether you are meeting a client for the first time or you’ve been working together for years, you should be doing all you can to elicit a sense of appreciation for what you do. The client should never feel as though working with you takes effort. The relationship should instead be built on ease and constant communication.
Some client relationships aren’t so straightforward, and this proves a challenge when you’re attempting to grow your agency and appease the other clients who aren’t so troublesome. If at any time a client becomes over-demanding or otherwise challenging, it might be time to say goodbye for good. Here are some things to consider, and the steps to take, when you want to fire a client without harming your reputation in the meantime.
Can the Relationship Be Saved?
Perform an Ego Check
Before you give your client the old heave-ho, make sure the issue doesn’t involve a battle of the egos. Ego clashes are common in any creative business, but a heavy ego will sink even the most well-established of marketing agencies.
If the constant clashes with the client are due to an ego match over web design, for example, that’s not a very good reason to let a client go. The client should have final say in all aspects of a given project. Instead of firing, perhaps shifting the account to a different account manager or team member to liaise with the client might be the more appropriate course of action.
Take Yourself Out of the Situation
In some cases, you may want to take a step back to assess the situation objectively, without emotions getting in the way. If you fire this client, will you be leaving them high and dry? For instance, is the company about to launch a new product and are you crucial to the product launch? Does the client need your agency to appease investors, and if you pull the plug the company might go out of business?
While there may be no legal ramifications for ending a client relationship, the ethics of the situation might be a different story entirely. You also have your reputation to consider. The last thing you want is for word to get around on social media that your agency leaves clients holding the bag, and that you didn’t give them a chance to find a replacement before you pulled the plug.
Try an Ultimatum First
The ultimatum is considered a pre-firing stage. Obviously, the best-case scenario would be a client that settles down and suddenly does become easy-going. A transformation like that might be possible if you give the client an offer the reps can’t refuse. If tensions are caused by the dealings of a sole representative, ask that your agency no longer have contact with the troublemaker. Or, make a list of your grievances and give the client a chance to come through. After all, keeping the client’s revenue flowing-in like normal is always good for business.
Firing Clients the Right Way
You have tried the ultimatum, and the client refuses to comply with your demands. It’s time to let the client go, but there is a way to be gentle – even friendly – about it.
Create a New Minimum Quality Policy
When you have decided to fire a client, send out a communication about a new policy that defines the minimum acceptable quality level for that relationship. If the client is always late, you will want to tell the client no more tardiness, or you will have to sever the relationship completely. Give the client a chance to comply, but be firm.
Make it Personal Message
An email is a cold way to fire anyone. Calling on the phone, inviting the client to a Google Hangout or Skype video chat, or engaging in a face-to-face conversation conveys a sense of warmth and respect that can’t be expressed with mere words on a screen. Tell the client that you are no longer willing to provide your services, and explain in detail why.
For example, a representative has become abusive, the client is almost impossible to get in contact with, or the payments keep arriving past the invoice deadlines. To keep the relationship amicable, tell the client that you will be happy to share files and access to all accounts with another agency as they transition away from yours.
Send a Follow-Up Email
Reiterate what you said to the client over the phone, the terms going forward, and next steps for the client to take. If the client isn’t abusive, consider helping with the search for a new agency. At least you can refer some contact names in the industry.
Consider This Before Firing
Being fired by a boss or client is never a pleasant experience, and tempers are bound to flare out of control. Don’t sink to anyone’s level and always maintain an even-keeled demeanor. Don’t play the blame game, either. Just be polite while doing your best to sever the relationship for good. It’s easy to wrap personal emotions around a business relationship, but at the end of the day, that’s what it is, and it’s not fruitful for at least one of you. Stick to the business aspect.
Provide a Grace Period
It is common courtesy to give the client advanced noticed of your firing, ideally 30-days. By not leaving your client holding the bag, you show that your agency has compassion, which can protect your reputation.
Check the Contract
Before you fire the client, read through the fine print to ensure you’re not in breach by doing so. Don’t get hit with penalties because you didn’t give the client due notice. For example, you might give the client a 30-day grace period while the contract says you must give a 60 or 90-day notice. While it might seem like torture to keep working with a client you can’t wait to get away from; you also don’t want that client coming after you legally. While the chances of that happening are rare, it’s never worth the risk.
Satisfy Your Commitments
Always deliver on your promises prior to kicking your client to the curb. Once again, you have your reputation to consider. Never give a client you’re about to fire ammunition that can be used against you. Whether it’s a negative Google review or scathing Facebook comment, all it takes is one disgruntled client for referrals to slow down or stop altogether.
And whatever you do, put effort into quality. You may never work with this client again, but presenting a polished final product shows professionalism on your part, which can also contribute to your reputation going forward.
Warmth and compassion go a long way, as does empathy when firing an agency client. When you find a client, you no longer want to work with, do some self-discovery, provide an ultimatum, then be as polite as possible as you let the client down gently. All along the way, be cognizant of your reputation and treat the client as if their opinion of you truly matters; as it just might somewhere down the line.