How to win back former customers

Written by Yvan Marston

A once-loyal customer is suddenly uninterested in your product or service. What do you do? Forget about the customer and move on is the wrong answer, says Jeffery Gitomer, author of The Sales Bible (Wiley).

If nothing else, you should least identify why you lost that customer, says Charlotte, N.C.-based Gitomer, who has trained salesforces at IBM, AT&T, Coca-Cola and Hilton Hotels. “Because if you don’t, you are going to lose others for the same reason.”

But more importantly, you can actually recover about half of your lapsed customers. Here are Gitomer’s best tips on how to get them back:

Was it something I said?

Ask former customers why they feel the way they do. Your interest in what went wrong could actually be enough to bring them back. But don’t only ask what you could have done differently — that’s just the start of the conversation. You need to know specifically what turned them off. Was it an impersonal phone system? A rude clerk? Late delivery? Delve into the specifics, advises Gitomer, and then find out what they would have liked. “Once you’ve opened that door,” he says, “they may be willing to give you another chance.”

Give them more

Getting a one-time customers’ business back may be good for your top line, but it’s even better for your marketing efforts. “Word of mouth is fifty times more powerful than other forms of advertising,” offers Gitomer, “and it’s one of the main things you should worry about when it comes to having a lapsed customer.” He suggests giving the customer more than they expect if you’re trying to resolve a problem. For example, say you’re a retailer and you accidentally overcharge a customer by $100 on her credit card. As soon as you discover the error, instead of returning the $100, why not give her $200? Instead of having a disgruntled customer spread negative rumors about your business, you’ll have someone who remembers you gave her more than she expected.

Time it right

To some extent, time can help to heal the wounds of a former customer. In a business-to-business situation, people tend to change jobs and there’s a good chance if you wait a bit, you’ll find there’s a new contact in place. Even if it’s the same person, let some time pass before you approach them anew.

Give them what they need

Re-establishing contact should start off subtly. Find ways of making amends without asking for business. For example, might you have some information that could help them do their job better? Forwarding an e-newsletter on office productivity to a customer who is an office manager, for example, is a good start. And when you do decide to make a move, ensure that you are offering them something they need and not the same product they said “no” to ago. “Businesses do what will help them,” says Gitomer. “If you have a solid reason to go back in the door again, you may have a chance — but don’t just go in selling the same thing.”

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© 2003 Yvan Marston

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