A man and a woman stand across from each other at a desk in an upscale hotel or boutique. The man, who has dark hair and a beard, is smiling and holding a pen over an open binder filled with pages. The woman is facing away from the camera and is wearing a green shirt.
Communicating the departure of an employee is most important when dealing with client-facing roles. — Getty Images/alvarez

When an account manager or client-facing employee leaves the company, there is almost always an awkward moment when you need to tell the client. Even when the employee departs on good terms, telling customers that the person they’ve worked with is gone can be a sensitive subject. Here are some ways to handle those conversations and keep your customers satisfied.

[Read more: Touchy Subjects and How to Communicate Them to Customers]

Let the client know as soon as possible

If the employee is in a client-facing position, let their client contacts know as soon as possible that there will be a change in personnel. The best-case scenario is that an employee is leaving for positive reasons. In this case, the employee should give enough notice to introduce their replacement and collaborate through the transition. But if an employee is terminated, that’s not always possible. In that case, it’s best to get ahead of the rumors. Assume the client will hear the news from someone inside your company, or theirs. You’ll want to be proactive about getting the right message to them first.

Know what you can lawfully say

The most important thing in communicating someone’s departure is to avoid legal exposure and protect the privacy of the former employee. Legally, in most states, companies are allowed to reveal why an employee left, even if that means telling a client they were terminated for cause. Check your local regulations to be sure.

“That said, because of defamation laws, companies are usually careful about what information they provide to hiring managers confirming employment or checking references,” wrote The Balance. “What they say must be the truth or the company can be subject to a lawsuit from the former employee. Legally, a former employer can say anything that is factual and accurate.”

The best tactic to avoid a lawsuit is to keep conversations vague and brief — with one key exception. If there was a security breach or a situation that impacted the client, you’ll need to be as honest as you can.

Stay professional, stick to the facts and remove emotion from the discussion.

Be strategic about your communication

There may be circumstances when you simply can’t answer a client’s questions, like in a large gathering. In those cases, Fast Company suggests responding to a question like “What happened to Tamara?” with “I think you are probably wondering who your new account manager will be…we are filling the gap with John until we can hire someone else.”

You can also use words like “inappropriate” to help defer the question. A response such as “I know you are curious about Tamara, but it wouldn’t be appropriate to share that information with you. I’d be happy to answer any other questions you have” is a good example.

If you’re taking questions via Zoom or another video platform, be aware of your voice and the way you hold your body. Negative signals like looking away or crossing your arms will alert clients that you are uncomfortable with their questions, and they may make some inaccurate assumptions. Stay professional, stick to the facts and remove emotion from the discussion.

Focus on the client’s underlying concerns

Most clients will seek assurance that they will get the high-touch, high-quality service as promised. A customer will be most concerned about the transition, the new point of contact and communicating any special concerns about their account.

Demonstrate that the new rep is fully up to speed on their account and history. Provide access to a higher-level manager in case the client wants to escalate a question or concern. Stay personally in contact with the client throughout the transition, asking for feedback, to ensure that they remain a happy, loyal customer.

Consider creating redundancies

If you have the bandwidth, consider restructuring your team to create personnel redundancies. Hubspot has had success with a service model where teams of three form a “pod” supporting one client. That way, if a pod member leaves, or even just goes on vacation, there are two remaining team members who are familiar enough with the account to cover the client’s needs.

With plenty of time, honesty and your client’s concerns in mind, this subject can be broached without any negative outcomes.

[Read more: This Week on Entrepreneur: How to Effectively Hire and Retain Employees]

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Published February 01, 2022