How to Lose Gracefully

A few years ago I managed to pry an advertiser away from another radio station in town. The client represented a significant piece of business, and had been with the other station for quite a while; the switch came as an unwelcome surprise to my competitor.

The client had previously recorded a commercial in his own voice, and asked the other rep to send me the voice track. The rep refused, and we ultimately re-recorded the whole thing.

This response made sense on an emotional level — why help someone who just fired you? But by refusing to send over the voice track, my competitor angered and inconvenienced the client, and ensured that he would never have a chance to get the business back.

The folks at Regence BlueCross BlueShield are a little smarter. In Sunday’s Oregonian, they published a full-page ad with the headline “An Open Letter to School District Employees in Oregon”.

Regence had been providing medical and other benefits to school district employees for nearly forty years. But this year, the Oregon Educators Benefit Board (OEBB) declined to select them as one of the three carriers in the program.

Regence could have claimed that the OEBB had made a mistake. They could have accused their competitors of underhanded tactics. They could have urged employees to call the Board and demand that Regence be reinstated.

Instead, after acknowleging his disappointment, Regence President J. Bart McMullan, Jr. made this promise:

“We will do everything we can to insure that this transition goes well for you, your families, and for OEBB… Our customer service staff will receive special training to help better assist you with questions and transition of care issues. During this transition, those of you receiving special assistance from our nurse case managers will continue to have access to the same people who have been serving your needs.”

McMullan then promised that district employees would also continue to have access to the resources of their members-only web site. He closed by saying “Regence will continue to be there for you in any way we can. Please call on us when you need us.”

Losing a major long-time account hurts during the best of times, and is especially painful during an economic downturn. Regence is undoubtedly already working on strategies to regain the business the next time the OEBB contract is up.

By accepting defeat with grace, and going out of their way to assist the transition, they’ve taken a huge first step.


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