Exit Strategy

By Heather Baldwin

Valentine’s Day, with its images of wine and romance, is a great day to believe in everlasting relationships. Anyone who has ever dealt with love or customers, however, knows the reality – relationships end. No matter how hard you try, no matter how much money you spend, on flowers or great CRM technology, you won’t always keep the girl and you won’t keep all of your customers. How you handle the breakup, say Kaj Storbacka and Jarmo Lehtinen, authors of Customer Relationship Management: Creating Competitive Advantage Through Win-Win Relationship Strategies (McGraw-Hill, 2001), can have a huge affect on your business.

“We seldom think that relationships will end, but they do. When they do,” say Storbacka and Lehtinen, “ending the relationship as elegantly as possible is crucial to the company for many reasons.” For starters, all customers – even those who are ex-customers – are reference customers. Often a terminated relationship holds potential for future sales, but only if the experience with your company was a positive one. Keep in mind that while interactions cease when a customer relationship is terminated, knowledge and emotions remain – and subside slowly. “If emotions are negative,” say the authors, “the relationship may be assigned a significant negative value.” Thus the customer may provide those dreaded negative references for your company. To help head off that problem, remember that the exit from the relationship will be the last memory the customer has of your company. Anything you can do to make that memory favorable ultimately could pay big dividends.

“Relationships should not be terminated in a way that results in either the customer or the provider losing face,” say Storbacka and Lehtinen. “It is always wise to leave the door slightly open. In this way it is easy for customers to change their minds, for example, if they have a bad experience with another company!”