By Rachel Craig
Breaking up is, as they say, hard to do – and that’s just as true in business as it is in your personal life. Sometimes, for whatever reason, you have to cut ties with a customer or client, and it’s important to do so in the right way. After all, you may not want to work with them any longer, but you don’t want to burn any bridges in the process of letting them go!
First things first, you need to be sure that breaking off the relationship is the right thing to do. For new businesses, this is often the hardest step – it’s really hard to lose a customer when you’re trying to build up your client list, so you may find yourself making excuses for them. On the other hand, a really bad customer may make you so angry that you just want to throw them out – either extreme is bad for your business.
Take some time to consider the situation calmly and objectively, and assess any options you have to fix the relationship before you cut it off.
If you have a contract with your client, make sure that you check it thoroughly. You should be sure to include cancellation clauses in case of such circumstances, as you could legally be stuck with the client if you don’t. You also need to get together any resources, reports, materials or projects you’ve already promised, so you can offer a complete handover.
Make sure that you know exactly what you need to do to bring the relationship to a conclusion, and prepare to deliver on it in a timely manner. This will help you to break ties cleanly.
When you have a bad relationship with a client, it’s important not to let it drag on too long. There’s a good possibility that they are just as frustrated with you as you are with them, and if you don’t act first they will leave – and slam the door on the way out.
Addressing problems when they arise can help you to fix the relationship before it gets to breaking point; it can also help to ease the transition when it is time to say goodbye.
In most cases, it’s not only appropriate to help your customer move on but highly recommended. If you’re breaking up with them because they just aren’t a good match for your business – rather than their being abusive or failing to pay – then consider whether you can recommend a more suitable company.
This alone can be very helpful if you want to end your relationship on a positive note, as they won’t feel like they’re being thrown out into the cold.
One of the most important questions you need to answer is this: do you ever want the customer to come back? If the current project is the problem, you may be open to working with them in the future – but if it’s actually them, you need to be clear that the door is firmly closed.
Don’t dance around this subject – if you don’t want their business at all, be firm but professional in your statements.
It’s widely regarded as a social faux pas to break up a personal relationship by text or email, so consider whether you’d be happy getting let down the same way in a business relationship. If you’ve conducted most of your business with the client in person or by phone, letting them go by email would be cold and unprofessional. However, if you’ve generally communicated only by email before, it may be acceptable.
When you have your break up conversation, keep calm and professional. Your customer may offer explanations; you don’t have to accept them, but listening is a courtesy that can make this ending smoother. Above all, don’t get into recriminations – simply state your reasons and move on.