Never Lose A Client

It’s January, which means you’re in danger of losing something. A bad habit? Some weight? Willpower, just in general?

Wouldn’t it be nice though, if you never had to lose another client again?

There’s an observed phenomenon in business where customers find themselves more impressed with a brand after an error’s been fixed than if nothing had gone wrong in the first place.

Case in point: Slack went down for a few hours one Monday morning. Millions of users took to Twitter to vent about the first-world hell they found themselves in.

SlackHQ responded with over 2,000 tweets to stressed out users. And as a result, saw a 7x bump in followers on a day that could have buried them.

This upsurge in positive engagement is known as the Service Recovery Paradox.


It’s a subject that’s been studied a fair bit. One research paper found that a Service Recovery Paradox is most likely to occur when errors aren’t that serious, haven’t happened before, and the company had little control over the cause.

On a separate point, authors of The service recovery paradox: True but overrated? say that while it’s “an opportunity to create an excellent recovery, the likelihood of a service paradox is very low”.

A Service Recovery Paradox is rare and only applies to certain situations. So while you could probably manufacture the same effect for yourself artificially, you’d be deliberately risking your business just to potentially ‘save the day’.

The key to keeping clients isn’t about never failing.

It’s about failing better than anyone else.

If that sounds like a rubbish idea, read about Why Failure’s So Important to one of the most bankable stars in Hollywood. Successful people fail way more than anyone else.

So this is a call to arms to take ownership of any cock ups. To turn mistakes into a stronger service. To keep more clients. Which will make you more money in the long run.


You failed

Oh no.

There’s only a few occasions you’ll fail to deliver for a client. The most obvious being delivering candidates to time, quality or budget. Unless it’s all three at once.

Or you’ve got a dropper.

How do you recover?

Deliver faster? Submit higher quality candidates? Provide better value for money?

Frogmarch your runner back through the front doors?

It’s not always possible. But then for a service recovery to be successful, it doesn’t need the impossible delivered. You just need to show you can work. And by that I mean: your socks off.

Damage limitation

Instead of just looking at a failure as a problem to be managed – which it absolutely is – see it also as an opportunity to build more confidence and loyalty into the relationships with your clients.

Look at failure as a revenue building activity, rather than a cost saving effort.

That might sound cynical, but it’s the practical consequence of “turning negatives into positives” when money’s on the table.



You need to work fast. The longer you leave it, the more entrenched your client’s irritation will be. That doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll get angrier. It means the failure will be harder to overturn.

So own the problem

And there’s a magic word you can use. Although doing so divides opinion.

“I’m sorry”

People have differing attitudes towards apologising in business. Legal people assume it infers guilt. Customer service types know it’s the number one thing people want to hear.

Obviously, you’ve got to judge the situation on its own merits. But a sincere apology can make a huge difference when a service has failed.

Although what seems to make an even bigger difference is explaining why the error’s occurred.

So walk your client through the problem, from top to bottom, honestly and thoroughly. Particularly if you can show that the failure’s beyond your control. Or that it hasn’t happened before.

These factors are key to a successful service recovery.

Although bear in mind there’s a fine line separating explanations and excuses. So don’t confuse the two. But involve your client in the issue and they’ll have more of a stake in the solution.



Owning the problem doesn’t just extend to apologising and explaining where things went pear shaped. If you’ve got the ear of your client, they need to know what you’re going to do about it.

You get points in maths exams for showing your working. In recruitment, all you need to show is the right answer.

Let’s flip that assumption on it’s head, while making another: that you’ve already delivered the best quality on the market.

When explaining what went wrong, include the metrics you’ve already hit. Time invested, platforms searched, candidates screened, CVs parsed.

Again, if your client can see you’ve held up your end of the bargain, it’s harder to vilify you. And that opens the door to a successful service recovery.


When faced with the choice, I believe most businesses would say attitude trumps experience when you get right down to it.

So test that.

If you can compromise on a candidate’s wealth of experience with the agreed-upon salary expectations of a motivated up and comer, one whose skill gaps aren’t unbridgeable, that could lead to a filled vacancy.

And a happy client. Albeit a slightly smaller deal for you.

And if that fails?

Knock your fee down

There might only be a handful of reasons you’d ever consider doing so. If at all. Doing whatever it takes to get a deal over the line might be one. It’s also fairly common if you’re expecting to recruit in volume in the future.

In owning a problem, invoicing for less is a heck of a gesture.

You’re not discounting. You’re recognising that a mistake’s been made. And money’s a straightforward, easy to agree upon way of doing that.

Equally, being clear that a reduction in your fee’s a one-time deal only reaffirms that you’re worth what you’re charging every other day of the week.


Token concessions don’t recover a service by themselves.

And arguably, ending the recovery effort here could be deemed just as big a failure as the initial event.

Proactive service recovery

Asking yourself two questions will keep the turd from the fan in future:

i) What went wrong?

ii) How do I make sure it doesn’t happen again?

Whatever the answer is to ii), build it into your workflow. Then tell your client what you’ve changed. Then follow up.

Committing to a better service is what galvanises a successful recovery.

Saying sorry and knocking money off’s what happens in restaurants when customers complain. In recruitment, you need to go further. Mainly because you aren’t just servicing clients on their birthday or anniversary.

If you’re expecting them to work with you every day, you need to prove that tomorrow’s going to be better.

I’m not saying the clients you’ve got now will be on your books forever. You might even elect to let a few slide. Particularly if you’re cultivating a Preferred Client List of your own.

But responding to failure better than your competitors will differentiate you from them.

Remember that a Service Recovery Paradox isn’t the mark of something great. It’s just the best outcome from a bad thing happening. But if there’s a chance to build something better from something bad, it’s worth it.

And if you do lose a client for whatever reason, especially a big one, and it feels like a disaster: bounce back, here.