Help me stay on good terms with my customer after my boss screws them!
November 25, 2009 5:32 AM   Subscribe

My boss is going to end a contract with one customer, although the customer would want to go on using our services. Boss's decision is because the service in question is not profitable enough anymore. I'm in charge of this contract and like the customer ie. all the people there who I work with. I think the feeling is mutual. These people also have some expertise and contacts I would like to maybe use some day. So how do I come out of this still being (business-) friends with them?
posted by gakiko to Work & Money (12 answers total)
If your boss decides to eliminate this contract who is responsible for delivering the news to the client?

If it's you, you should be able to find a way to express to them that, though your company is eliminating them as a customer, you would personally like to remain in touch with them because you find them to be insightful, forward-thinking, etc.

In other words you need to find a way to separate yourself from the decision the company is making.

On the other hand, if your boss is going to be the one to deliver the news to the customer then you should wait until after he has told them, and then put in a phone call to the person with whom you deal most frequently and essentially pass along your condolences. If they are receptive to continuing a professional relationship with you, then great.
posted by dfriedman at 6:11 AM on November 25, 2009

Not answering your question:
Maybe the customer would be amenable to paying more for the service, thereby making it profitable once again for your boss? Is that an option that has been explored explicitly by both parties?

Answering your question:
Tell them what you have said here. "As a company, it has been decided that we can no longer provide this service because we lose money on it. However, on a personal and professional level, I am really going to miss not working with you on a regular basis. Your expertise and industry leadership have been meaningful to my personal and professional development. I would like to stay in touch and find ways in the future to work together again." And then do that.

If appropriate, give them your personal email and your personal phone number. Maybe go have happy hour drinks with them. Keep up the friendship with emails and or phone calls with industry related information that maybe of interest to them.
posted by SantosLHalper at 6:56 AM on November 25, 2009

1) Don't be weaselly, be direct and forthright. Honesty in dealing with business partners goes a long way to good feelings later. Don't let your boss be weaselly when talking with them.

2) Consider asking your boss what the parameters would need to be to keep the contract and make it viable; if you can figure out a way to raise the profitability, cut the costs, etc, you may be able to keep the business and make everybody happier.

3) Be aware that your boss may be dealing with greater re-trenching in this economy, and may be looking to change your business, reduce headcount, etc. It's possible that this is the first step towards downsizing in your organization, and you should be on your toes. Companies rarely leave profitable work behind, unless there are larger costs that they are trying to reduce.
posted by jenkinsEar at 8:00 AM on November 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

Uh, from my comment above, change "miss not working" to "miss working."
posted by SantosLHalper at 8:53 AM on November 25, 2009

Nthing everything others have said. Especially looking for ways to make it profitable. Perhaps it is only a portion of the services you provide (that a particular department is involved in) that might not be profitable. Can you provide partial services and make it profitable?

Without details on why it is not profitable any longer it is hard to give specific advice. Are projects going overbudget? Are more people being pulled in than necessary (and thereby adding more billable hours)? Is it a technology problem that is causing inefficiencies?

A great client is hard to come by in this world and you should do everything in your power to keep them. And if you feel this is just another sign of your company getting ready to downsize, even consider feeling out the client for potential job opportunities if theirs is a company you would really like to work for.
posted by Elminster24 at 10:20 AM on November 25, 2009

Do you have a competitor that might be able to take over those services and do a good job? It's extraordinary customer service when a company is willing to pass a customer over to another company for the good of that client.

They'll remember that and thank you for it. In the future, if they are able to do business with you, they might do so, even though you once had to drop them, because the transition was smooth.
posted by explosion at 11:06 AM on November 25, 2009

I would add that you should make a referral to another company which can provide for this client's needs. That way, you will be remembered as the guy who looked out for the client's interests.
posted by megatherium at 11:07 AM on November 25, 2009

Don't speak badly about your boss to customers, they'll lose respect for you. You are part of the company, so make sure you take responsibility. Try to transition them to another product/service if you can.
posted by blue_beetle at 12:08 PM on November 25, 2009

I would call this all "personal business development" or "networking". What I think you really asking about and what you need to focus on is getting comfortable with networking, because this is a classic networking situation.

I'm not clear on exactly what "in charge of the contract" means (administrative? tech lead? sales?) but it sounds like you want to stay in touch with these guys, and think that the contact will be mutually beneficial. Not for future business, but for future professional contacts. If you're dealing with managers, they will be used to this concept, and hopefully will see you as someone valuable to keep in touch with.

When given the right opportunity (after your boss makes the announcement, or when you're dealing with the final transition logistics), tell the guys you want to stay in touch with, individually something along the lines of, "I've really enjoyed working on this project with you, and I'm sorry to see it come to an end. I'd like to stay in touch." And then you DO stay in touch -- call them up for lunch. Write them a (casual) (personal) email asking how things are going, telling them what you're doing.

I would think that in none of these communications you would actually ask them for business or references. You're continuing personal contact, reminding them what YOU do, and keeping up-to-date on what THEY do. Someday, the seeds that you are planting may pay off, but for now, you just need to plant them and give it a little water every now and then.

Social networking tools like LinkedIn and Facebook and good old-fashioned email can facilitate this kind of networking. But at the root level, it's really just personal "staying in touch" and being friendly.
posted by QuantumMeruit at 12:54 PM on November 25, 2009

Regardless of how you decide to handle it blue_Beetle is right. Do not hide behind your boss or in anyway start a sentence with: This was not my idea..., my boss asked me to tell you......, I really do not want to do his but... etc. Be forthright, respectful of their contributions, support them in appropriate ways and express your hope to have a continuing professional and collegial relationship. Wait a while ( six weeks ) follow up with a phone call/email asking to have coffee. If they are resistant, hostile, etc chalk it up and move. If they welcome it meet and express your continued respect for the their work, engage in appropriate "gossip", let them tell you about the future and see where it goes.
posted by rmhsinc at 1:27 PM on November 25, 2009

Thank you for your answers. I've marked a few as "best" because they made me aware of some angles I haven't thought of before, but really, they're all great.

I'm already looking for other companies with similar services so I could recommend them to my clients. And I'll take care to refrain from the line "it wasn't me, it was my boss". Thank you for warning me about this, because my first instinct was to use that approach. You're right, it would be unprofessional.

Sometimes I still feel like a kid pretending to be all grown up and working. :)
posted by gakiko at 1:27 AM on November 27, 2009

Regarding the last sentence, don't we all... I think very few people are "natural" self-marketers / networkers. And perhaps even less among the "geekier" population set.

If it helps make you feel any better (and if it wasn't clear from prior responses), They Don't Teach This Stuff In School.
posted by QuantumMeruit at 1:46 PM on November 30, 2009 [1 favorite]

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