What to Do When You Lose a Customer
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What to Do When You Lose a Customer

It hurts to lose a customer, but here is hope and help in getting them back.

By Johnny R. Duncan

Losing a customer can happen for many reasons and not always at the fault of business practices or poor services and products offered. Sometimes it may be contributing factors that are out of your control such as market conditions, or a trend pulling customers away from your products.

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  • To offset this unfortunate turn of events, it is extremely important to not let it upset the regular flow of business and to make sure that you do not internalize the loss. This is not often addressed in business colleges or business journals today. Business, and the activities included in running a business are to be external events and not to be taken to heart. It is wise to try and wear a rhinoceros hide to keep the bumps and bruises of running a business on the outside.

    With that said, letís dig in.

    Important Steps To Take When You Lose A Customer

    First, interview the departing client to determine the reasons behind the departure and to learn how your company can improve. The best person to conduct these informal interviews is someone in the firm who has had no direct contact with the customer. Obviously, this will be a somewhat burdensome task, but one that is necessary in order to correct any existing problems.

    It may take some time to schedule this important assignment and it is possible for it to take several weeks before an arranged meeting can take place. However, continue with persistence and tactfulness to meet with this customer. At the meeting, encourage the customer to speak freely and let them know that you would appreciate their candidness. Begin with something like, ďThank you for taking the time to meet with me. This meeting is solely for the purpose of learning how we can regain your business and if we cannot get your business back, how we can correct any mistakes we have made in the past.Ē Many times this will free any suspicions that customer might have had and it will help to relax them so they will speak frankly.

    Then, thank the lost client for his or her business. Sometimes clients do return, so preserve the relationship by sending a brief letter to express your disappointment about the departure. (Your company may be able to recapture the business by sending occasional notes along with an article of interest, keeping departed clients on the firm's mailing list, or sending a polite letter stating that your company hopes things are going well after the transition.)

    Second, document all correspondence with this customer. In fact, it is wise to compare records of clients you lose as well as new clients, proposals, and new-customer rates from year-to-year to help you monitor stability.

    The downer to this is that you will have to be organized and ready to make changes within your current busy schedule. For some of us, this will prove to be somewhat difficult.

    The upside to documenting is that you will have a ready reference when you need it and youíll be able to establish a pattern relating to those customers that are still with you and those that have left.

    Thirdly, begin a separate folder for those customers who have left. Start entering all the correspondence, notes youíve taken, time of loyalty (how long have you had this customer?), and any other information that will paint a picture or profile of these customers. Soon, the mistakes made or the reasons why the customer left will surface and give you a clear indication of what will need to be done in the future.

    Finally, remain completely professional at all times. Any emotional feelings you feel with the loss of these customers should be put aside so that you can think clearly and from a strictly business standpoint. Nothing will scare a customer off for good better than a poor, disgruntled attitude. Staying calm yet upbeat will show the customer that you would love the opportunity to serve them, but that you wonít close your business if they donít come back.

    This is obviously action to take after the loss of a customer. But what about the process leading up to the loss? What are the problems in your business that may have contributed to this problem? Some of the primary reasons why we are more prone to lose our customers are as follows:

    Not Knowing Your Customers
    Changes in your customers' preferences and your competitors' products and services can leave you in ashes unless you get to know your customers well. It is imperative that you strive to learn what they want now and will likely want in the future, what their buying patterns are, and how you can be a resource for them even if you don't have the right products or services for them now.

    Being a resource for your customers is scary for some of us. Some people fear that if they provide information that will help their customers (but lead them to other venders), that they open the potential for their customers walking out on them. Guess what? Some of them might walk away. That is the risk involved in running a business. However, most will remain loyal to you because you cared enough to provide for them what they needed. Your business could not provide them with all that they wanted so you assisted them and with your kindness, you probably set a foundation for future loyalty.

    Not Giving Your Customers What They Want
    Even if you know what your customerís needs are, you are not going to keep them if you donít now give them what they want. As simple as this may sound, we still tend to give the customers what we think they need. With all of our experience in this industry and all the knowledge we possess, we think that we know what the customer wants. The truth is that regardless what we think, it all boils down to what the customer perceives as valuable. The customer always buys the value they perceive. Go ahead and try to give them what you think they need and you will soon be out of business.

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    Not Going the Extra Mile
    It is so easy to get complacent and fall into the trap of letting the current trend of self-gratification of some business ownersí seep into our mindset of running a business. Donít let it! Always give more than the customer wants. It sounds simple, but in practice we tend to forget the basics.

    When you tell the customer you will call them back with some bit of information they requested, do it. In fact, give them a date and time that you will get back with them and then just do it. Go so far as to even tell them what mode of communication you will use. For instance, ď I will email you this information next Tuesday at 4:00pm. Make yourself a note and follow through. They will be pleasantly surprised and you will win their trust.

    Another way to go the extra mile is to throw in some little extras. If you make them a banner, determine how they are going to hang it and throw in some zip ties or light rope for hanging it. Or if you are designing a sign you could provide creative ideas to help the customer with their message. Give more than is expected and increase your chances of keeping that customer. Remember, if you donít do it, somebody else will.

    There are many reasons why you won't keep a customer and some of them may be out of your control. The best defense you have against the loss of customers is to learn as much as you can about them and their needs, cater to THEIR needs, and go beyond what they expect. If, after doing all that you can to retain a customer, you may still lose him or her, just remember to follow up and find out what the reason is. You may just win them back and develop a long-lasting relationship.

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