Another resignation – how shall I tell my client?

We are naturally troubled when an employee hands in his/her resignation letter. This action subconsciously triggers many concerns.

These are mainly how this departure will affect the rest of the team in terms of seniority, motivation, productivity, efficiency and so on.

We are even more concerned when the departing employee has a client-facing role, as this will possibly entail having to start all over the whole familiarisation process with each impacted client. This situation is of greater concern due to the increased staff-turnover organisations are facing. Accountancy and audit firms will directly relate to this. This is because a high percentage of their employees are working specifically for and at clients’ offices.

So, how are we to deal with these situations?

It is important that you are the one who contacts and informs the client about the impending changes.  It is best to inform the client as soon as you are informed about the resignation. Ideally, for this conversation, you should invite the client to an informal meeting (over a coffee or light lunch). During this meeting you will explain the current position and how to proceed.  This prompt, focused, proactive approach will help ensure the client feels his/her account is safe.

Remember that clients understand that employees resign and move to other pastures.  Therefore they do understand that people and things can change over time. During the informal meeting inform the client when their account holder will be leaving the company. Also explain who you think will be the ideal employee to take over.  Highlight the strengths and qualities of the person you have in mind. Explain that a planned handing over period has been worked out.  Reassure them that you will personally oversee the transition and ensure that a proper, detailed handover takes place.

The meeting’s tone and approach should be positive throughout. Avoid mentioning negatives, such as reasons why people are leaving nowadays or indulging in badmouthing the employee for leaving. It is important to highlight the positive input and results that the employee has brought to the company and to the client. Unfortunately, a good number of employers tend to bring out the character flaws or criticize the employee with the client. Also remember, anyone who leaves today could be a returning employee in the future. They can also be a future client!

Approach this informal meeting as an opportunity to discuss with your client whether the services provided meet their expectations and/or to discuss ways to improve the ongoing working relationship.

Show that your company is strong and confident. Provide the departing employee the opportunity to speak to the client if s/he feels the need. I am mentioning this as, unfortunately, certain employers tend to immediately ‘disconnect’ the employee from their client. This is due to fear that they will poach the client, especially if s/he is moving to a competitor. You should portray yourself as being above such instances and a realist – knowing well that in today’s competitive world none is a certainty and such things happen all the time and are beyond one’s control.  Surely, you may wish to be present at the meeting.  However, the positives of such attendance are quite minimal as remember that the client and employee have built a working relationship based on trust over time.

In the meantime,  if you already know who the person who is taking over is, do invite him/her to join the informal meeting.  This proactive approach from your end will instil a sense of safety and action. Break the ice over an informal lunch. This will help start building a new working relationship between the client and your employee.

It is important to have set contingency plans in place , especially if you identify that staff turnover is becoming a growing issue for the company. Consider adopting  a ‘team approach’ whereby the client is provided with several contact points within the company, , even if their account is being handed by one employee. This approach may avoid many of the issues mentioned above and it may  also provide staff with a better networking experience with different clients from different sectors and business situations. This can become an enrichment opportunity in itself .

About the author

Maria Bartolo Zahra is Managing Director and HR Advisor at SurgeAdvisory. She has over fifteen years of human resources and business advisory experience.