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How to Cope with the Loss of a Valued Client

The depth of your grief is dependent on the attachments you had.

It’s a regular day at the office and things are going well, until you get the call—your valued client is leaving, either for another advisor, to go robo, or do it solo with passive index funds. Anytime you lose a good client, it triggers grief. Remember, grief happens any time there is a break in attachment—even when it is not caused by death. 

Although you have multiple attachments to a client, there are two primary dimensions that get broken when a client leaves you:

  1. Loss of your personal relationship and connection to the client and family.
  2. Loss of income from that client.

The depth of your grief is dependent on the depth of the attachments you had—i.e., how long term the relationship was, how much you enjoyed the client relationship, the specific economic impact of losing the assets, and whether the departure came as an unwanted surprise rather than a mutual parting of ways. In certain situations, of course, you may be just as happy for the client to leave. Most of the time, though, the loss of a client is a blow, both personally and professionally, and it’s important to recognize and process the grief of that loss.

Six Steps to Take:

  1. Think about that particular client. What did you enjoy and what will you miss? What was positive about your interactions and what characteristics did you appreciate? What did you learn by having this person as a client? At the same time, honor the mixed experience of any loss by recognizing ways in which you’re grateful the client is gone, or aspects of the relationship that were not as pleasant.
  2. Reconstruct the story of the relationship as you saw it play out. Include the good times when the relationship was on solid ground and both parties felt satisfied. Also include any signs of trouble that you saw along the way, when a meeting or phone call didn’t go well, or when there were tensions and strains in the relationship. As clearly as you can, tell yourself the story from your perspective from on-boarding until the moment you got the call. Write it down, or at least list the bullet points.
  3. Read the story several times, noticing what feelings arise. At various times, you may find yourself smiling, while at other times you may feel your blood pressure going up. Depending on the circumstances, you may be angry, swear and blame, or you may feel numb and shell-shocked. Find ways to express these things, like writing a “letter” to the client telling him what you think (this will never get sent—it’s strictly a means of venting), throwing a ball against a wall, using a stress squeeze ball, drawing, scribbling, stomping your feet or whatever helps. Personal development guru Wayne Dwyer suggests that it’s helpful to create more order in your immediate environment to restore a sense of control, so you may wish to clean out your car or straighten your desk.
  4. Remember that when a relationship dissolves, the fault is rarely, if ever, unilateral. So once the emotional impact lessens, read the story again and honestly recognize where you made mistakes or where in retrospect you wish you had done things differently. Be blunt with yourself and admit to those actions, words or times when you contributed to the problem, whether intentional or unintentional, by omission or commission.
  5. Learn from this experience. Vow to act differently going forward and see how you can grow. Work to come out of it as a better person and professional on the other side.
  6. Send a brief note to the client to say thank you for the valued relationship and wish him all the best for the future.   

Following these steps may on occasion restore you to a client’s good graces, and may potentially lead to doing business together again, in the present or at another point. It will also give you vital practice in processing your own experiences of loss, so you gain understanding and skill in helping your clients process theirs.

Amy Florian is the CEO of Corgenius, which combines neuroscience and psychology to train financial professionals in how to build strong relationships with clients through all the losses and transitions of life. 

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