It’s never fun to say goodbye to a client, but any consulting company who has been around as long as Culture Foundry has experienced this.
Now, just like “each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way”, every departing client has their own reason or reasons. It could be a shift in business strategy (on either party’s part), budget concerns, growth of an internal team, external project wind down, or dissatisfaction with what the consulting company has delivered (or failed to). However, no matter why a client needs to depart, there are right ways and wrong ways to handle this transition.
It’s worthwhile to take a quick detour and talk about why this is important. It is important because integrity is behaving gracefully when things going badly, rather than when everything is great. For a consulting company, it’s easier to be pleasant, responsive and attentive to new or continuing relationships. However, clients who are leaving are still clients and thus need to be be treated with respect. How a consulting company handles departing clients is a powerful indicator of its integrity.
For Culture Foundry in particular, a safe and clean client departure reflects three of our core values:
- Helping. We are in this business to help people. Goals are aligned when we first engage, and as long as they continue to be, we want to travel together. But if things change, we still want to help our clients get to their goals.
- Relationships. We want long term relationships. If the partnership isn’t working but one party holds on to the other, this damages the long term relationship for short term gains. That’s pretty dumb.
- Getting better every day. When a client leaves, this is important feedback for us to process. Especially if the departure is due to Culture Foundry’s failings.
So, what are tips for a successful client departure that is respectful of all parties?
- Keep it professional. This means that you acknowledge the client’s frustrations and desire to leave. You need to act according to the contract, but this is a good time to bend on things like timing. It’s no fun to keep a client who isn’t happy just because their contract specifies a certain notice period. Don’t try to hold onto them (by, for example, taking any of the work you’ve done for them hostage). However, being professional also means that you get paid for the work you’ve done (you’re not running a charity) and that you don’t neglect your remaining clients while helping offboard a client.
- Try to deliver something that can be handed off. If the client is game, try to get to some kind of checkpoint. It’s difficult for a new team to dive into a partially finished codebase, so if there is any way to deliver a working product (even just an alpha or a manifest of delivery listing pieces of work) make that effort. If you have features in midflight, make sure they are available to the client or their new team.
- Help the client move to a new provider. If asked, make a good faith effort to help them find a new provider. As directed by the client, give the new provider access to code (in the form of a tarball or git repo), documentation, and environments (transferring ownership to them, helping them get set up). If desired, set up a call with the new provider to orient them to the system. You should be paid for this time, which is an investment in getting the new provider up to speed. Also, make sure the client is aware of their option to have you do as little as possible, especially if budget is a concern.
- Don’t take it personally. At the end of the day, the client is doing what they consider to be best for them, and you have to respect that.
- Remember that it is likely that the client left someone to come to you. Also, no matter what great work you did, the client will most likely remember the departure more than any other part of the experience of working with you. Make that memory a good one.
- Wish them well.
In general, the end of a client relationship is tough on both parties. Being professional, helpful and courteous will help it be as pleasant as possible.