Tembua has been in business a long time. Over the course of 21 years, we’ve won RFPs and lost them. Sometimes, an RFP goes 3 rounds and then never closes, and it may take several emails to find out that the company decided not to complete the RFP. (I personally find it rude when respondents aren’t notified.)
We’ve sent out quote-only packages—and gotten back some signatures and also some rejections. Or we don’t get a response at all. That may be because the (potential) client decided not to translate or pushed the project back 6 months or went out of business. Not every no-response is a lost quote. And occasionally when we follow up, the client says, “I forgot about that! Get started!”
Tembua is a successful company, so we are obviously winning more opportunities than we lose. Jeff Olsen, our Director of Sales, always says that no just means later. The next time he contacts a potential client, they know his name and recognize Tembua.
After all the work to win a client and build that relationship, the hardest part for me is losing a customer. There can be so many reasons that have nothing to do with Tembua or the service we provide:
A new department head brings in a vendor from her old job. (We’ve done that too, and we call it milfoiling, after the clingy water weed that travels from lake to lake on boat trailers.)
Our client is bought by a multinational that has language services set up in 18 different locations.
Or Tembua does not meet a corporate requirement. We are woman-owned and WBENC-certified, but we are not veteran-owned or minority-owned. Sometimes a client needs a vendor who can check boxes that we can’t.
During the recession, some clients walked away because they found a lower-priced vendor. Years ago, Tembua spent 6 months trying to be the Wal-Mart of language services—we’ll beat their price. That didn’t work because I am a trained linguist and couldn’t stomach sending out low quality under our name. In addition, as any business owner knows, there is always someone who will be a penny lower than you. Some of those clients are now walking back to us.
Recently, however, we lost a client because they found, not the lowest price, but a price that was just slightly lower. It hurts when a relationship dissolves over a fraction of a percent. Our goal is to provide top quality to help clients protect their brands and stakeholders. We are constantly revaluating suppliers and pricing strategies. I know where to buy translation for pennies. I also know how to evaluate credentials. We manage money carefully—no one at Tembua is making hundreds of times the wage of the lowest-paid employee. You can squeeze suppliers or shrink margins to lower prices, but still, clients will walk.
So—how do you react when you lose a customer?
The reaction is less important than what you actually do. Our philosophy is that a lost customer is a sales opportunity, and we have a process.
- Communicate: Express sorrow at the lost relationship and assure the client you will still be here to answer questions.
- Ask: Why are you going elsewhere? Is it something we can fix? Did someone let you down? How big is the price difference? Sometimes that’s a hard conversation. Or maybe the client just wanted to try something new. Have you ever stopped at a different restaurant for no particular reason? Maybe that’s the case with the lost client.
- Apologize: Accept responsibility for an error and ask for input on how you can improve.
Or explain: Perhaps the process wasn’t laid out clearly and the client’s expectations were not known or met.
- Keep in touch: The monthly newsletter, yes. But for a lost client, an upbeat personal email now and again can make a difference.
- Use social media: Follow other people within that company and post comments so they still see your company’s name.
Is that a lot of work? Absolutely! But it’s much easier to keep or re-earn an existing customer than to start from scratch with a new contact.
Let me know what you do when you lose a client!