How Do The Best Companies Deal With At-Risk Clients?

Everyone deals with losing a client differently.

You might get a sick feeling in the stomach, you might tear your hair out or you might even scream out loud.

But what if you could predict if a customer was unhappy before they left or cancelled their contract?

That’s exactly what I’ve set out to do. I asked some of our top performing customers to learn what they do to identify at-risk clients and stop them from leaving.

Surprisingly, it’s easier than you might think.


Step 1. They use a customer satisfaction tool.

All our customers use Client Heartbeat to identify at-risk clients (obviously… their our customers, duh Ross).

Our tool uses past scores and industry data to intelligently identify potentially at-risk clients.

There are other tools that you can use to. We’re not going to tell you that Client Heartbeat is the only way you can find who your unhappy clients are.  Here are some other tools to evaluate.

When selecting a customer satisfaction tool, make sure it can track satisfaction over a period of time. You need to be able to compare past scores and see changes in satisfaction levels to find out who might be at-risk.

The aim of step one is to identify potential unhappy clients.

Related: 8 customer satisfaction tools compared and reviewed


Step 2. They quickly look internally to try and understand why the client might be unhappy.

The best companies set up meetings with staff to try and determine the reason for a client being unhappy. They don’t just call the client straight away.

Instead, by trying to understand what the problem might be, they can be better prepared for when they on the phone to the client later.

We always talk about ‘being proactive’. Well.. this is a perfect example of how to being proactive can improve customer satisfaction.

Picture yourself in your client’s shoes. If your provider called up and already knew why you were upset, how would that make you feel?

I’d say you’d feel pretty confident that they can turn things around.

Related: 6 Signs A Customer Is Unhappy (Checklist)


Step 3. They contact the client and ask them to explain further.

Once you have an idea of the possible causes of the problem, you can reach out to the client directly.

Always do this via a phone call as opposed to an email. Phone calls are personal; they show that you care and have time in your day for them.

The best companies contact clients within 24 hours and take a very consultative approach to the phone call. They explain to the client why they are following up (i.e. the survey), and thank them for their initial feedback.

They then lead the conversation towards the core problems that were predicted in step two.

The key is to ask why.

Ask your client why they are unhappy with whatever they are unhappy with. Ask why at least two times to try and understand the underlining reason for unhappiness.

Let’s break this down with an example.

You have a client has been very frustrated with the service levels from your company. They were disappointed that customer support tickets were being resolved in 12 hours, as opposed to 6 hours.

What do you do now?

You might take a look at the clients account and see that they are only on an ad-hoc service package and thus, their service level agreement is actually 24 hours.

So what’s gone wrong here?

This is where you need to ask why, twice. By doing so, you can understand the underline reason why they are unhappy.

In this example, they obviously are unhappy about the service levels… but only after asking why, twice, will you find out that they had incorrect expectations. They actually thought their service agreement said six hours.

See how asking why can help you get to the underlining problem?

Still with this example, you now have the opportunity to reset customer expectations and use the phone call as an opportunity to educate the customer further about their existing package explain the benefits upgrading their plan (upsell).

Related: The Complete Guide To Customer Expectations


Step 4. They promise and over-deliver.

You’re on your last chance.

It’s time to deliver or perish.

The best companies are great at reassuring clients that their problems or issues will be resolved. They then execute and put systems in place to ensure the client is well looked after by all employees.

R&G Technologies puts at-risk clients on a ‘customer watch’ list. These clients are flagged internally and each staff member knows to be careful and go above and beyond when dealing with them.

Cody River from Apex IT Solutions explains that they give at-risk clients, ‘some old fashioned TLC’ – some tender loving care for those unfamiliar with the term.

Oftentimes, customers are unhappy because their expectations are misaligned. Somewhere along the journey from when they first engaged with your services, to now, the customer expectations have changed. The best companies are good at resetting customer expectations so that moving forward both parties know what an acceptable level of service is.

Related: 9 customer retention strategies that work


Step 5. They learn from feedback and adapt.

This process doesn’t end with the at-risk client.

The best companies listen and learn from their unhappy customers.

They use the feedback to improve their business processes so that all clients can benefit. These companies adapt to changing needs from their clients and aren’t afraid of optimising their systems and processes to ensure clients remain happy.

No, they don’t change things every time a customer says their unhappy – you can’t please everybody.

But they do look at all feedback holistically, discuss it internally as a team and adapt where required.

“ Client Heartbeat gives us more feedback that helps us adapt and change…” – Stephen Taylor, CEO LeadingIT


Systemize your ‘at-risk’ follow up process and stop losing clients.

Losing clients is part and parcel of doing business.

You’re bound to lose some clients from time to time, whether it is their changing requirements, a poor economic climate or… your poor service.

The solution to stop clients from leaving or cancelling is to proactively address concerns before they become BIG issues.

A simple way to do that is to measure and track customer satisfaction. Use a tool that can track past satisfaction scores to intelligently notify you of changes in satisfaction.

Can you imagine if you could track when your client’s satisfaction scores drop 9/10 to 6/10?

Every businesses approach to unhappy clients will be different, but the fundamentals of being proactive and learning from feedback is universal.

Use the advice in this blog post to implement your own five step formula for addressing at-risk clients.

Want to keep learning? Read these…

Gordon Tan

Gordon Tan is an entrepreneur based in Australia who has started and sold multiple technology companies with a combined value of $150m. This included a client satisfaction benchmarking platform which gave him first hand insight into the best practices of over 6,000 businesses. After retiring at 35 he is now a recognised thought leader on winning and retaining clients - His two passions: making clients the heartbeat of a business no matter what the product or service and this blog.

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