I’m a big advocate and devotee of check-ins. Maybe it’s the teacher in me, but I like to know how things are going. I have formal weekly check-ins with my staff and contractors and I get regular feedback from our members.
I’m also a fan of good old fashioned exit interviews. There is a case to be made for and against exit interviews, but I think the advantages and insight you can gain far outweigh the disadvantages. Here are a few things to keep in mind when you get ready for and conduct the exit interviews:
Who should conduct the exit interviews?
Keep in mind that you can have more than one person doing an exit interview: you as President can interview the client and you can ask one of the account managers to interview his/her peer in the client company. You can also do group or individual interviews.
What is the purpose of an exit interview?
To get really important information that you might not otherwise get. That information can inform how you approach another client in the same industry. It might inform how you write the next contract. Insight provided can also help with your marketing efforts.
How to do the exit interview:
Contact the client whose contract has ended or who decided they no longer need your services. Ask them if they would be willing to participate in an exit interview. Make sure they understand that you honor their decision and want some insight on what worked and what could have been done better. Be intentional and let them know that the purpose is for you and your team to learn. Let the client know that their opinion and ideas matter very much to you.
Five questions to ask a lost client in an exit interview:
- What did we do well?
- What do you wish we had done?
- Can we reach back out to you for other opportunities?
- Would you give us a testimonial?
- Can we ask potential clients to call you for references?
Of course, you can probe deeper as the questions are answered, but make sure you get answers to all five of these questions.
Why do the exit interviews:
- It’s an easy way to gather information on what worked and what did not work.
- Hearing from the end user/client is the best way to know if there is a problem, especially if the same issues keep coming up.
- Open dialogue can lead to brainstorming which in turn can lead to new opportunities to engage your services.
- This is a great way to get testimonials.
- Taking time for an exit interview shows how much you value the client and the relationship.
That said, be very conscious of the following:
- Be careful of your language. “What did we do wrong?” will get a different response than “what would you have liked more of?” The latter clearly opens the door to information that can lead to further dialogue.
- Be open to criticism and have an actionable follow up plan in place.
- Be prepared to answer the question: “Why didn’t you ask me this before I decided not to renew my contract?”
- Be sure to prepare in advance: make sure you have reviewed the terms, the expectations, the invoices and the milestones. Also take time to get employee and customer feedback when relevant.
- As the exit interviewer, you should control the meeting. Start by highlighting all the things that went right. And get buy-in from the client that there were positive outcomes and expectations were met. Next address the things that fell short of goals. Point out the lessons learned and have suggestions for continued improvement. Apologizing and taking ownership for short comings on your end will go a long way in building trust and possibly open the the door for further contracts.
- Say thank you for the contract
- Say thank you for allowing us to help you further your mission
- Say that you are looking for honest feedback because you value the relationship you have
- Point out what the contract with them enabled you to do:
- Hire more staff
- Explore a new market
- Gain further experience and expertise
- Give back to the community
- Showcase your company’s talent and expertise
- Ask for the opportunity to do business with them again
- Ask for referrals.
Where to do the exit interviews:
You can do them by phone or preferably face to face. You can offer to go to their office or ask them to come to yours. You can take them to breakfast, lunch or dinner. You can even send out a questionnaire. The important thing is to make sure you get in the habit of doing exit interviews with your clients.
Finally, learn from the information you received and implement necessary changes. Do a debrief with your staff: do you need to change some processes? Do you need to build in regular check ins and do regular updates so there are no surprises? I’m a big fan of policy manuals– make sure to document new ideas and suggestions and especially make sure to address concerns, no matter how small.
Over to you, do you conduct exit interviews with ex-clients? What works and what doesn’t for you? What would you add?