Whenever an employee leaves a position – whether it’s due to layoffs, a promotion, a family move or another reason – managing their departure involves more than just collecting their keys and laptop. After you’ve ticked the last box on the employee exit checklist, there’s one more important group of people whom you need to address: clients.
This can feel like a challenging conversation to have. But if you plan your talk in advance, keep it brief and focus on moving forward, you can use the discussion to strengthen the relationship you have with your customers.
Let’s take a closer look at how to prepare for and guide client conversations in the wake of employee departures.
1. Plan your employee departure announcement in advance.
This is a conversation that you should prepare for. Think through what you want to say and what you don’t want to say. Spend time rehearsing, if necessary, to boost confidence – especially if the departure was sudden or dramatic.
In general, it’s wise to stick to something straightforward: “James is no longer with the company. We look forward to introducing you to your new contact, Jane, who has 12 years of experience serving clients in your industry. We’re excited about continuing to deliver the high level of service your company deserves.”
The goal is to focus the conversation on next steps and the future, while avoiding discussion of any sensitive or personal information about the former employee.
The discussion isn’t the only aspect of the transition you’ll want to plan carefully. Preparing internally for the transition – such as by choosing new points of contact for your clients before the conversation – can help you give your clients the best possible experience.
2. Give clients advance notice.
If you have advance notice of an employee’s upcoming departure, tell the clients who’ll be affected as soon as possible. Let them know:
- The employee’s last day
- Who will be their new point of contact
- How the handoff to the new employee will happen
- Who they can contact if they have questions or need extra help
Be sure to let these clients know that your company’s ongoing commitment to responsiveness and client satisfaction has not changed. Giving clients a heads-up far enough out can reduce concerns that might lead them to bolt. It may also help prevent departing employees from poaching those clients if they’re leaving to work for a competitor.
If the change is for positive reasons, like a promotion within the company, let clients in on the good news. That kind of circumstance puts the transition in a more positive light, especially if your customers have built a relationship with the employee who’s leaving. When appropriate, consider including the outgoing employee in the conversation.
If the employee is leaving for any other reason, you’ll want to stick to the facts, keep the conversation brief and move on to other matters.
3. Review accounts in danger of walking.
Any change can prompt clients to reevaluate their relationship with your company. If you’re concerned that some of the departing employee’s accounts may leave because of the transition, you can:
- Review the accounts that were assigned to this person, evaluating the flight-risk level for each.
- Notify all of the clients in writing, but first ask to meet with those you think may be more apt to bolt.
- Tap into your relationships with key decision makers as needed to explain your plan to serve them moving forward.
4. Assign transition support.
You may need to divide the departing employee’s accounts among your remaining staff. For major accounts – and if you can’t assign a new account person immediately, name a manager or experienced individual as the main point of contact for the affected clients.
For smaller but long-term or high-value customers, you’ll want to assign your most qualified team members. You want these clients to feel like they’re a top priority…