Customer defections are traumatic. However, while it feels like a disaster at the time, the loss of a big customer is usually a signal that you need to realign your sales and support efforts–and lay the groundwork to win the customer back. Here's how:
You probably think you know why your customer left–but you probably think wrong. According to an oft-cited study by the research firm CRMGuru, most people believe the primary reason a customer left is that the customer found a lower price elsewhere or the customer's needs changed. But if you ask buyers why they switched vendors, the reason is usually either "bad customer service" or "poor quality." In other words, do not assume you know why the customer actually left.
If you don't ask, you're not going to find out. In other words, you must speak with the decision-makers who switched to another vendor. Approach the former customer respectfully and with a sincere desire to learn and improve. In some cases, you'll get an earful right off the bat, but in other cases, you'll need to probe to get the honest answers. Either way, you need the straight scoop in order to use the situation to your advantage.
If the problem is anything except the "the customer's needs changed"–which, it turns out, is the reason only 14 percent of the time–then you need to address the issue that the customer surfaced. If your product or your customer service sucks, make the changes necessary to improve them. If your price isn't competitive, either drop the price or figure out a better way to articulate why your higher price is justified. Here's an added benefit: fixing the problem will keep the defection becoming an exodus.
While you're fixing the problems, keep your former customer in the loop. That doesn't mean pestering the decision-makers with junk emails, but it does mean informing them about the progress of the changes and improvements that you're making. Any communications along these lines must make it clear that the customer's opinions and complaints are not just being acted upon but are sincerely appreciated. And if the changes help you win new customers, be sure to thank the former customer.
When you're completely sure that you've addressed the issue, it's entirely appropriate to ask the former customer to revisit the decision. When you exhibit an honest effort to improve, most people are willing to give you another chance.
Have you used these tactics to win back a customer? Let us know in the comments below.