Reconnecting with ex-customers

Customers stop doing business with you for any number of reasons. Those who were dissatisfied or angry probably won’t come back. But those who simply may have been tempted to do business with a competitor — or those you didn’t work hard enough to keep — may be willing to return and do business with you again.

Reconnecting with those ex-customers is well worth the effort. They thought well enough of you to do business in the first place. Plus, they already know who you are and what you can do, so you don’t have to invest a lot of money to introduce yourself.

One common mistake businesses make is falling into a negative mindset about former customers. When that customer leaves for a competitor, they react as though the customer were a wayward spouse and become hurt or bitter.

While it’s easy to feel slighted, in most cases, their decision wasn’t really about you. It was about them and their perceived needs. If you start to treat those former customers like a jilted boyfriend or girlfriend, they’re not likely to return — even if they want to. Your attitude is critical, so banish any trace of resentment or jealousy.

Reestablishing relationships begins when one party reaches out to the other, and in the case of a past customer, it’s your job to begin that process. Sometimes, taking that first step is all that’s needed.

If your customer base is small, try a phone call or an email. Mention that you haven’t heard from the former customer in a while, and you wanted to check on them. How are they doing? Is there anything they need? It’s true that some may react as though it’s an intrusion, but those are the people who probably wouldn’t return anyway. Most will appreciate your follow-up.

One approach is to make a special “welcome back” offer. Because it costs a lot less to market to people who already know you, that offer will probably cost you a lot less than what you’d invest in landing a new customer.

Suppose you have a heating and cooling business. You could drop a note to inactive customers that says something like: “It’s been a while since we’ve had the opportunity to help you with your home comfort needs. We appreciate your past trust in us and hope you’ll turn to us for your future plans. As a way of thanking you, we’d like to make a special offer. We’ll perform a free ‘clean and check’ on your furnace. That’s normally a $69 service call, but because we value your business, we won’t charge you for the service.”

Resist the temptation to view that service call as a lost profit opportunity. Instead, you’ve reestablished a relationship with the customer in a friendly, non-threatening way, so he or she will be more likely to call when work is needed, or to refer you to others. In addition, a well-trained technician can nearly always spot opportunities for future service or sales.

When you pay attention to ex-customers, you also get better at holding on to current ones. For example, you can contact past customers with an email survey or phone call to discover why they left in the first place.

Watch for patterns in their answers. If half the people mention that your customer service was rude or your sales reps didn’t seem to care, you’ve received some valuable insight. Tackling those internal issues may keep other customers from leaving, and it will probably cost a lot less than a big effort to attract new customers.