Want to Improve Customer Retention? Talk to the Ones Who Got Away

Customer communication is the crux of different strategies for customer retention and to win back business from those who have left.

Customer retention

Losing customers is always disappointing, but it also presents an opportunity. Instead of mourning your lost customers, talk to them. Reaching out and listening to their concerns might change their minds — or, at the very least, impart useful information to help you improve your business. Understanding how they made their decision will be a major help with future customer retention efforts.

So, how to go about communicating? Try these ideas.

Email Surveys

Sending an email with a quick questionnaire can help you figure out what the problem was. Free or low-cost email survey packages are widely available, providing you with templates and suggestions for how to structure your survey. You can use a mix of multiple-choice questions and open-ended questions to get a clear opinion from the customer. For example, one questionnaire could ask "We notice you haven't shopped with us for awhile. Click the box that best explains why" and then include options such as "Stopped carrying the products I use"; "Prices too high"; "I had a negative customer service experience" and others.

Follow the multiple-choice question with a "Could you explain further?" open-ended box for them to type in details about their personal experience. Be sure to record and organize these responses so you can see if any patterns emerge.

Social Media Responses

Keep an eye on your social media posts and mentions to see what customers are saying. Whenever you get a complaint on social media, reach out and make a friendly inquiry about what sparked the issue. In some cases, the customer may have a legitimate problem that you can help solve. Other times, you may only be able to offer an apology and a promise to do better in the future. But in either case, you'll come away with potentially useful data about how your business interacts with its customers.

As a bonus, your friendly and helpful responses will be visible to other would-be customers, which can help enhance your image.

Direct Conversations

In a business with close customer relationships, you may be able to pick up the phone or send an email and ask why your customer opted to leave. These conversations can be difficult, but they're well worth it. Remember to be candid, professional, and above all, don't take their responses personally. You may be able to offer the customer a deal to bring them back around, or you may just end up with information that you can keep in mind for future customer retention efforts.

If the customer has made up their mind to leave, keep the conversation or email exchange brief and respect that they may not give you all the details you want. End the exchange by encouraging the customer to consider returning to you in the future.

Now that you have information from your former customers, don't let it go to waste. Work to organize and interpret your data so you can use it wisely. Analyze your results, create a spreadsheet with common complaints, and make notes to provide detail on why your customers occasionally leave. You can't change your company to fit the preferences of every single person, but you may be able to make adjustments that enhance your appeal among your target customers.