Don’t take losing customers lying down

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We know going the extra mile to keep a customer is always far cheaper than acquiring a new one. But what about getting former customers to return to the fold? It, too, is easier and likely cheaper.
So says best-selling author Susan Scott (“Fierce Conversations” and “Fierce Leadership”), founder of Fierce, Inc. a global leadership training firm. But having any chance of getting them back requires that we have systematically and thoroughly addressed the issue. Once done, it is very much in order to ask the former customer to revisit their decision.

Writing for Inc.com, Geoffrey James, author of "Sales Source," offers some excellent insights into recovering a customer who has jumped ship. It can take five steps, but if we exhibit an honest effort to improve on something that triggered the customer’s defection, we can find most people are willing to give us another chance. Here are the suggested steps:

1. Don’t Deny: We likely think we know why we lose a customer. But James says we probably don’t. Studies show most people believe the main reason a customer bolts is because of (1) a lower price or (2) the customer’s needs have changed. But, if you ask customers, the most often cited reasons are either bad customer service or bad quality. So, we shouldn’t assume we know what happened.

2. Discover: Obviously, then, if we don’t talk to the one who decided to go elsewhere, we’ll just be guessing. Moreover, we’ll have no direction in which to make possible changes that could turn things around for that customer or prevent further defections by others. James cautions to approach them respectfully and with a sincere desire to learn and improve. Sure, we may get an earful, but we need the straight scoop in order to use the situation to our advantage.

3. Fix: If we’ve decided to fix the problem, it’s important to try to keep the former customer up to speed. Informing them about changes and progress should be done the right way. For example, any e-mails or letters should always include the fact that the customer’s complaints are not just being acted upon, but are very much appreciated.

4. Relate: Only 14 percent of defections happen because the customer’s needs changed. That means the overwhelming majority of lost customers are for reasons that could be addressed. So, whatever the real problem turns out to be, identify it and fix it. And, while fixing the problem is not a guarantee the customer will return, it can still prove to be the best way to keep a defection by one customer from becoming an exodus for many others, counsels James.

5. Revisit: Finally, when we’re certain we’ve made the right changes, it’s time to “ask for the order.” In other words, James contends it’s entirely appropriate to revisit that customer(s) and sincerely ask them to reconsider their decision to take their business elsewhere. After all, we are in effect “selling” the return and the deal is not likely to ever close if we don’t ask for the business again.

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