How to Turn Around a Failed Client Relationship


I received the following email from a reader concerning a failed client relationship. He agreed to let me share it with you.

“Good Morning Mr. Crawley;

As a fan of your book, “The Compassionate Geek,” I was hoping I could get your opinion on how to turn around a poor customer relationship. After several years removed from managing our service team, I’ve been asked to take over the service side of the house again to address problems with poor customer service, poor customer relationships and client attrition.

My initial steps were to reestablish team camaraderie and formalize a plan to document and analyze client feedback. Once this was underway, I was able to determine which areas needed immediate attention. One challenge has been turning around client relationships that have already wilted. What steps would you recommend someone take to reestablish a good relationship with clients that have stopped communicating, or currently view all support efforts through a negative lens?

Have a great day!



Here is my response:

Dear DC,

First of all, the steps you’ve already taken in terms of reestablishing camaraderie on your team and documenting and analyzing client feedback are excellent. Good for you! I also encourage you to check out my interview with Aaron Huff. He talks about implementing compassionate customer service in managed services (

As far as turning around a wilted relationship, it can take a long time and it involves separate conversations with both the client and your team.

Listen To Your Client

It starts with a lot of humble listening to the client. Set up meetings with the client, ideally face-to-face. In the meeting, say the same thing to the client that you said in the first paragraph of your email to me. Explain that you’ve been asked to take over the service side of the house again to address problems with poor customer service, poor customer relationships and client attrition. Then, ask them to tell you about their past experiences and the problems they’ve had. Take lots of notes, but don’t respond. Just listen.

When they finish describing past experiences, explain that they’re very important and that you want to earn back their trust. I would even say something like this: “I realize you’ve had poor experiences with us in the past and I want to put the past in the past. Can we agree to start over again effective immediately?” Then, offer them your personal assurance that you’re taking personal responsibility to ensure their satisfaction with your team’s performance on their account. Ask if they mind if you contact them regularly over the next few weeks and months to ensure they’re happy with the way things are going.

Get Buy-In From Your Team

Next, meet with your team and make them aware of what you’re doing to restore the client relationship. Explain how important the client is. Talk with them about what happened in the past and how the relationship deteriorated. Ask for their input on rebuilding the relationship. As with the client, do a lot of listening and note-taking. After you’ve had a chance to digest their input, conduct your own research and develop a plan. Meet with the team again and explain the plan for restoring the relationship and your expectations of each team member. Explain to the team that it may take some time, but that the client is very important both to the company and to you personally. Ask for each team members buy-in as a way of getting their commitment.

Double-Check The Relationship

Finally, double-check every aspect of the company-client relationship to minimize the possibility of problems. You must be meticulous about this. A disenfranchised client will be less likely to cut you slack when errors occur.

Yes, this is a lot of work. My former boss Mike Costello often commented, however, that when we mess up a customer relationship, it’s an opportunity to win that customer (or client) for life. It’s all in how we handle it when we make mistakes.

Good luck!

For More Ideas on How to Improve Communication and Customer Service Skills

Bring my IT customer service training seminar onsite to your location for your group, small or large. Click here for the course description and outline.

Customer service book for IT staffPick up a copy of my IT customer service book The Compassionate Geek: How Engineers, IT Pros, and Other Tech Specialists Can Master Human Relations Skills to Deliver Outstanding Customer Service, available through Amazon and other resellers.

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