Winning back customers: making up is hard to do

A blackboard with welcome back written on itDon't write off customers that leave. With the right approach, you could get them back

Was it something you said? Something you did? Perhaps it was it them and not you. Still, they may have gone, but that doesn't mean your relationship has to be over for ever. There's always a chance you can get them back.

Ready for some bad news? Well, it's inevitable - your business will never be able to keep everyone happy all of the time. Darker forces are at work and they will lure customers away from your business to your competitors.

Issues around your customer service might arise and leave your customers unhappy, whether down to computer or human errors. It's naive to think everything will run smoothly all the time, even with the best intentions and the best staff training. Let's face it, everyone, including you, can have an off day.

But it's not just your company facing these challenges. On average, most companies will lose between 10 and 40% of their customers. These are people who have walked away and may never return, and many companies don't even bother to find out why. The problem is, when you lose customers, you have to go out and find new ones to replace them - and that's costly and time-consuming.

Old customers make hot prospects

Let's not get too negative about it though. Remember that it's far easier to sell to someone who has dealt with your business before than it is to a new prospect. While a bunch of flowers or a night out at a favourite restaurant may work you back into the affections of your partner, in business that's just not going to cut it. It's time to look at successful strategies and campaigns that will win back even the most disillusioned of customers.

If you're still not quite convinced that it's worth the hassle of contacting people who won't necessarily make it easy for you, then consider this: the cost of winning back an old customer is far, far less than acquiring a new one. Economically it just makes sense.

Start off with the basics and make a list of all the customers who've dealt with you in the past but haven't come back within the past six months. Identify the ones you think will be most likely to come back and purchase again.

Here's the deal clincher: actually listen to what they have to say. If you're asking why they haven't purchased from you in a while, then the information they give you is vital to your customer relationship development strategies. If you present yourself as a solution creator then they will be happy to listen to what you have to say. And don't forget the basics - have you been trying to reach them at an old address for example?

Deliver what your marketing promises

If the reason the person deserted your company in the first place was because they thought the customer service was poor, then improve it. There's no point in telling them that things are far better now if they're exactly the same. Asking people what they want and giving your personal assurance that you can make it happen may seem obvious, but you can't afford to underestimate its impact.

Remember that in their absence these customers may well have become loyal to another company. You'll need to give them a tangible incentive to come back to you. Discounts, vouchers and loyalty cards are all great ways to get people back on side and will give you a second chance to secure their business and prove your worth.

If that doesn't work, it may be time to accept that the relationship is over. Remember to suppress the customer's details, so you don't keep sending them unwanted communications or wasting your marketing budget.

If you would like to read more on this topic, see the Resources box on the right.

Alternatively, you might be interested in our content on Customer loyalty schemes, Customer service and Understanding your customers.