It has happened to all of us. It’s part of doing business. No matter how hard you try, somewhere along the way, you lose a customer. There are a number of reasons why this happens, attrition being one of them. In terms of attrition, there is not much you can do about that. A customer disappears for one good reason or another: they go out of business, they are bought by another company, they decide to go offshore, or any other reason beyond your control that causes you to lose their business. This is not the kind of customer loss I want to talk about.
What I want to address here are those customers that you have lost over the years due to circumstances within your control, such as poor performance, a quality issue, a technology issue where their needs exceeded your capabilities, pricing issues, or maybe you just drifted apart due to lack of attention. These lost customers are what my friend Bruce appropriately dubbed “the orphans.”
When you launch a customer acquisition initiative to grow your business, the best and first place to start is with orphans. They know who you are and have already done business with you, which means you are in their system. Focus on what you can do to bring them back home to your company; they are the low-hanging fruit.
Here are five tips for rescuing orphans:
- Define who they are and create a backstory for everything that happened. Include why they are no longer a customer. Get a complete understanding of what happened, when it happened, and who was involved. You need to get the complete picture.
- From everything you've learned, decide if this account can be brought home again. Obviously, you can’t win them all. If there was a nasty lawsuit, for example, cross them off the list. But if it was simply a matter of their technology needs outgrowing your capabilities, then they are worth revisiting–especially if you have upgraded your technology since the last time you did business with them.
- Develop a good tactical plan to get them back. Include the history of your former relationship. How long did you work together? How many products did you successfully deliver over the years? If you have performance records in your archives, look at those. It could be that you worked with this customer for over five years, delivered thousands of boards over that time, and just hit a bad stretch that caused the separation. Or maybe they just got a new quality manager who had it on for you, and that person is no longer with them. Whatever the problem was, chances are you are in a better position today. So, develop a plan of action, including your “story,” to convince them to give you another chance.
- Make them an offer they can’t refuse. This is key to your strategy to get them to come back home to your company. They already know you; they did business with you in the past, and now, your job is to convince them to give you another try. And the best way to do this is to offer them something they can’t refuse. Give them a free trial offer, something that will entice them to give you another chance.
- Get your act together and hit the road. Set up a meeting with their key people and talk to them about how you used to do business with them and remind them of the good old days by showing them how long you did business together—how good it was (until it wasn’t), and yes, touch on what went wrong. Then, update them about your company, what you have done to improve things, and how it would be a great idea for your two companies to do business together again.
And one more to under promise and over deliver:
- Once you convince them to give you another chance by following these guidelines, blow them away with your service and show them how much you have improved since you worked together in the past.
I have executed this plan with various companies many times, and it works. You won’t rescue all orphans, but you will succeed in bringing a majority of them home.
It’s only common sense.
Dan Beaulieu is president of D.B. Management Group.