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Returning to the fold: how to win back customers

You want the business to grow. You know how hard the sales and marketing teams work to get new customers. You know how long it takes to tempt clients away from your competitors. Yet, at times there’s an attitude of inevitability that when you lose a customer there’s nothing to be done.

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You want the business to grow. You know how hard the sales and marketing teams work to get new customers. You know how long it takes to tempt clients away from your competitors. Yet, at times there’s an attitude of inevitability that when you lose a customer there’s nothing to be done.

However, if you’re determined, and follow some simple steps, you’ll find that customers you feared you’d lost forever, are encouraged to give you and your company a second chance.

Identify why they left

The first thing you need to do is understand why your customer has left you. If you have many thousands of customers, then probably surveys or focus groups will be the only practical approaches. But, if you have fewer, high value clients, this should be done with each individual customer.

The questions you may want to ask include:

  • why do you no longer use our products/services?
  • where do you obtain similar products or services from currently?
  • what would encourage you to give us another chance?
  • what would encourage you to stay with us for the long-term?

You may know the answers to some of these questions already (particularly, if you know you have given poor service to a client). On these occasions, you need to apply discretion about whether, and if, to ask these questions, or whether to move to the next stage for those particular customers.

Apologise

The next step seems straightforward yet is rarely done well. If customers have left you and you wish them to return, you need to apologise that your products or services did not meet their requirements previously. Together with the apology, you must describe what has changed so that their requirements are now fully met, or, even better, exceeded!

Make it easy

You should expect some inevitable and natural cynicism from the lapsed customers. After all, they’ve already given you a chance and you’ve disappointed them. This means that you need to make it easy for them to give you a second chance. Perhaps you could offer a free trial period? Or you could offer a no-quibble guaranteed refund if customers are not completely satisfied? Whatever you do, you need to make it easy for these customers to give you a second chance.

Check in

When you’ve apologised, and put together a proposition that makes it easy for your ex-customers to give you another chance, it’s the time to remain close to your customers. Agree regular catch-up meetings and be faithful at sticking to them. In those meetings, ask for sincere feedback and remind them that you want to be long-term partners. Impress upon these customers that you want to learn anything you can to make them totally happy. You then need to feed that information back to the marketing team so that products and services can be developed with this perspective in mind.

Don’t be discouraged if all of this sounds like hard work. Consider how much work it takes to win a brand new customer. Winning back an old customer is worth the effort. What’s more, you’ll benefit from the experience. You’ll learn about your company’s shortcomings and you’ll have the opportunity to address them. After all, in the words of Bill Gates, “your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning”.

Heather Foley is a consultant at etsplc.com, a bespoke provider of HR technology.

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