Losing a customer is never an easy thing to accept, especially if the customer has been profitable or has been doing business with you for a long time. Yet customer defections happen to all businesses.

Generally, people choose to buy from a specific supplier because of product, price or service. They also usually leave for one of these reasons. Understanding why a customer left can help you identify problems or opportunities for improvement. The easiest way to gain that understanding is simply by asking the customer why they made their decision. While it can be somewhat uncomfortable asking, here are some ideas to help improve that experience:

  • Be tactful. Maintain a friendly and professional demeanor regardless of the customer’s response. It’s always possible that the customer will return to you some day, so keep that in mind.
  • Ask promptly. There still may be an opportunity to save the relationship. If not, quickly learning why the customer left may help you identify a problem that should be remedied immediately to retain other customers.
  • Consider using an impersonal method of asking. If a meeting or telephone call would be uncomfortable or time consuming, try email. It is quick and easy. The nature of email also encourages honest responses.
  • Make the inquiry from the “home office.” Instead of having the salesperson ask, have the inquiry come from the sales manager or another executive. This will give management the clearest understanding of the issues involved — without that information being filtered through the salesperson — and will also communicate a level of respect to the customer that may be valuable later.

Learn from the process

There was a TV commercial a few years ago in which an executive called his management team together and handed out airline tickets so his people could visit customers to bolster those relationships. That executive converted losing a customer into a motivational and positive event. He used it as a teaching and management tool.

As a business owner and manager, you set the tone for how customers are treated. Setting an example that shows customers are important will be immediately reflected in how the rest of your organization views and treats them.

Never close the door completely

Customers have a habit of coming back. Even though they made the decision to leave, they may ultimately learn that the new vendor doesn’t measure up to expectations.

This news is provided as a service to you by Marlin Business Services Corp., a nationwide leader in commercial lending solutions for the U.S. small business sector. Marlin’s equipment financing and loan programs are available directly and through third-party vendor programs, including manufacturers, distributors, independent dealers and brokers, to deliver financing and working capital that help build your success.