(For the purpose of this article we are going to use the word “employees”. If you have subcontract workers, this info still applies and in fact, applies even more strongly).
In our last newsletter, we discussed how to find good employees. Hiring employees is a great thing! It means your company is growing and expanding. However, the biggest concern a business owner has is: How do I keep my employees from stealing my clients?
You are right to be concerned. When I first started my lifestyle management company, I lost my best two clients to one of my employees who decided to start her own company after I showed her everything I know about business and customer service. And when I say ‘two best’ clients – I mean, they made up nearly all of my revenue.
When this woman quit, she told unflattering stories about me to both clients. One of them believed her and gave me a tongue lashing. The other one called and said she knew the woman was lying but, because I had taught her so well and because she knew this client’s home, she wanted to stay with her.
It was a dark day.
But, rather than wallow in my misery or quit my business entirely, I sat down to figure out how I could prevent this from ever happening again.
First of all, I revamped my hiring agreement. This is a legal document that states all the company legal mumbo jumbo including prohibiting employees from soliciting my clients or my other employees. It also stipulates quite a bit more (i.e. confidentiality and the like).
Whether a hiring agreement is fully enforceable may be up for discussion but it is always better to have one because at least it gives you some bit of legal precedent and it shows that you have discussed important issues with the employee before they agree to work for you (and they sign it!).
But having a hiring agreement is not enough and as it doesn’t apply to the day-to-day operations, I created a number of policies and procedures to make sure my employees don’t steal my clients. And you know what? We have not lost another client to an employee since!
In order to keep your clients from hiring your employees directly or worse, your employee from trying to steal your clients; you must create the perception that you are a company and you are in charge – and you need to create this perception for every client and often.
Here are the top four steps we implemented to create that perception and to prevent theft of clients:
1. Establish yourself as the person in charge – It can be very easy for the client to get attached to the person working with them especially if they don’t have regular contact with you, the business owner.
Therefore we separate the money from the employee. We don’t let our employees discuss pricing or quotes with our clients. All discussions of money are between me and the client.
Furthermore, in order to firmly establish myself as ‘in charge’, I rarely do regular concierge work for my clients unless we’re short-handed. In other words, my clients know I am the owner of the company and don’t do employee work.
It can be challenging for some owners to stop doing client work since they started out that way, but set a goal of running the company, not doing the client work. This will serve you in many ways, especially as your company grows.
Besides, once you hire employees, you won’t have time for client work as you should be leading them, plus marketing and networking harder than ever before – you have to keep the employees working!
2. Keep control of your company - The worst thing that can happen to a business owner is to be caught unaware (blind-sided). This says to a client that you are not in control of your company. Instead, make sure all employee-client conversations are documented not only to protect you but also keeps informed and first and foremost in the client’s mind.
We make it mandatory that I am copied on all client communication. Every single email. If the employee has a phone or text conversation, we require them to follow up with an email the same day that starts out 'to confirm what we discussed on the phone’ (or in text) and then they reiterate the conversation.
By doing this in your company, you are always in the loop fully aware of everything happening in your company. Plus, you’ll have the added benefit of full documentation so you avoid any complications due to verbal communications.
3. Create a team mentality – This is probably the most important of all. You need the client to view you as a company and not an individual.
Here is one way to create a team mentality: NEVER use personal pronouns. Don't let your employees say 'I did this or I did that'. Always have them say 'we did this' or 'we will respond' or better, have them start emails and time posting with an action word (picked up groceries or created a filing system or set the alarm – no pronouns at all!).
This creates a sense of the company and not the individual. You want a team mentality so the client gets attached to your company and not the employee. This will stop clients from trying to hire your employees directly or to want to stop using you when the employee changes.
Now I have heard the argument saying ‘I’ is more personal. It is not. When you’re doing work for people, the use of ‘I’ is ego based. Subconsciously you want the client to know you’ve done something and to appreciate you for it.
Unfortunately, you’re going to need to develop a sense of validation from within. Your clients pay your company for a service and it doesn’t matter whether they appreciate you or not. (although most of them do).
Likewise, your employees may resist the lack of personal pronouns. We have had employees in years’ past who would get really upset because they needed the client to validate them personally.
In these cases I would point out that the employee works for me, not the client; which means as long as I appreciate them, that’s all that matters.
You want the client to appreciate your company and what you offer, not the individuals (including YOU). In fact, we have one whole procedure dedicated to how to communicate with clients. What words to use. What words not to use. And all my employees are trained to do it exactly alike. Which leads me to the last recommendation:
4. Create a professional business – Once you start hiring employees, you’ve moved into a whole new arena as far as your business goes. Yes, I talk often about having policies and procedures but if you want to prevent your clients from being stolen then you need to have a strong foundation, consistent policies and procedures and adequate training.
It is imperative that you educate your employees at initial orientation and consistently thereafter. This includes an understanding that this is your company, these are your clients and this is how each employee needs to operate and behave.
That doesn’t mean you sit them down and say those exact words – it means you create that air of professionalism through training using the policies and procedures you’ve created.
It is also imperative that your data collection is consistent and professional. Having your employees enter their own data and in a manner of your choosing establishes your credibility with the client as a professional business.
Before you look at all this and think ‘holy moly, that’s a lot to process!’; let me offer you this to consider:
Since we implemented these steps, we have not lost a single client to an employee. Nor has an employee taken off to start his or her own business of this type. These steps work!
Leslie Spoor is a consultant, mentor and author helping small business owners around the globe. She is founder and CEO of two successful companies, Concierge Business Solutions® and Executive Errands®. Leslie also is the creator of a Concierge data collections software system, Essential Elements™ and a six lesson educational series, How to Start Your Own Business with Leslie Spoor©, available at www.conciergebusinesssolutions.com. To work with Leslie or for more information, please visit her website or contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org