Sooner or later every business loses a valued customer. Needs change, problems occur, personalities differ. But nowhere is it written that a lost customer must stay lost. In fact, the mark of a successful business is its ability to determine why customers stray and to take action that, over time, effectively brings at least some of them back into the fold.
Here are six tips to keep in mind when you decide to focus your energies on regaining customers lost to your business in the past:
1. Reach out to former customers. Some businesses just write off lost customers, as though they’ve disappeared or gone into hiding. On the contrary, those customers are still out there. It’s up to you to reach out and re-establish a connection. If possible, approach them via a more personalised route than email. A phone call or even a written letter may prove to be the “pleasant surprise” needed to get these customers to respond to your inquiries.
2. Determine the reason for defection. Customers don’t stop purchasing a company’s products or services for no reason. While their departure may have nothing to do with the quality of your offering, nonetheless, it’s entirely possible that they left because of some related element of dissatisfaction. Your business can only improve if you clearly understand why this happened.
Business author Geoffrey James recommends asking two key questions of former clients: (1) Why have you decided to leave our business? (2) What can we do to bring you back as a happy customer?
It’s a “no-lose proposition,” James contends. Ideally, “customers will be so impressed with your curiosity and concern they’ll reconsider their decision to leave.” At the very least, “you’ll learn what’s driving customers away so that you can make corrections.”
3. Apologize sincerely and take responsibility. If the cause for defection relates to the quality of your product or shortcomings in customer service, it’s time to issue a sincere apology. But don’t stop there.
“Saying ‘I’m sorry you’re unhappy’ isn’t enough,” writes business owner Vladimir Gendelman. Even if your company isn’t technically at fault, “make it clear that you can understand why they would be upset, and that you’ve taken steps to make their next purchase more satisfactory.”
4. Reassess your business operations. It’s not easy taking criticism, justified or not, but learning what drove a customer away means looking objectively at the way your company conducts business. Sometimes you can achieve this goal on your own, but for many CEOs and business owners, getting clear-headed advice and guidance from outside sources can make all the difference in the world. (Joining TAB and attending Business Owner Advisory Board Meetings guarantees you’ll receive honest, insightful feedback on your customer service and all other business operations.)
5. Begin the process of re-establishing relationships. Lost customers aren’t “found” overnight. It may take awhile to win back the trust of a customer who feels they’ve been short-changed in the past.
One viable strategy is to ask permission to resume contact and regularly share key industry information with a former customer. Learn more about their particular needs and challenges, and begin sending on articles, white papers, blog posts, etc. that can help provide solutions to those challenges. In this way, your business takes on a new identity as a “trusted partner” in helping customers grow.
6. Land a one-off project and prove your worth (again). A former customer may be understandably reluctant about hiring you on a full-time business resource. Instead, bid competitively on a single project—or offer to provide a different product or service altogether—and do everything in your power to “wow” the former customer. If things go well, you can move forward incrementally and demonstrate with certainty that you’re fully committed to satisfying the newly-found customer in every way possible.
Acquiring new customers if far more costly than retaining the ones you have. The ROI of reclaiming a lost customer, therefore, is well worth the time and effort involved.