This morning, Nancy Myrland wrote an excellent blog post on one of the most important questions you should be asking your clients, both new clients and long-term clients: 

What can I do to keep you as a client for the long haul?"

Nancy must be reading my mind again, because I have "client service" down as the subject to focus on for today’s post.  Her post got me thinking about the counter-question to this one, which is "What would make you leave?" 

Clearly, finding out the reasons that a client would stay with you and your firm long term is essential – you want to be doing the things that make your clients happy, and what better way to find out what those are than to ask them? 

But I’d argue that almost as important is finding out what might make a client leave


Many of you may say that you have a good enough relationship with your clients that if something was wrong, they would tell you. But would they? It’s human nature to avoid, rather than confront (for the most part), so more than likely, if there’s something a client is unhappy with, they would start to give you less and less work until they’re no longer a client.  Or they just wouldn’t call you again after the matter was complete. 

Asking the question of what would make them leave serves three purposes: 

  • Like Nancy’s question, it opens a dialogue with your client that allows them to communicate their expectations with you. It also shows them that you truly care about the relationship, and want to do whatever you need to to keep it positive and thriving. 
  • It opens the door for the client to bring up something that might be bothering them about the relationship, that they haven’t voiced before. Perhaps they expect more phone calls or email updates, or they don’t like the surprise charges on their last bill. They probably wouldn’t have said anything, but since you asked, it’s a good opportunity to discuss it.
  • They may have some general pet peeves that you weren’t aware of – perhaps they never like leaving voicemails for you, and would prefer to talk to a live person. Or they like when you can meet them for lunch once a quarter. Or they hate newsletters.  Whatever their individual tension points may be, this is when they’ll share those, so you can tailor your services accordingly and avoid creating any issues altogether. 

I can already hear some of you worrying that asking your clients about what would make them leave is going to get them thinking about leaving. If that’s the case, then they were one foot out the door anyway. For the majority of clients, they will appreciate that you’ve taken the time to have a conversation with them about what they need and want – and what they don’t need or want. It will become a positive thing, something that shows that you’re invested in their satisfaction as a client.

That investment in satisfaction breeds loyalty, so that when small difficulties do occur, clients will give you the benefit of the doubt and be happy to continue working with you, because they know that overall, you have their best interests at heart. 

So as Nancy suggests, put this question in your rotation as well, and keep asking it.