Learn from Your Business's Lost Customer

Part of the Business Plans for Canadians For Dummies Cheat Sheet

You can often gain a better understanding of your most loyal customers by taking a look at the customers you’ve lost. Your former customers may paint a rather grim picture for you, highlighting where and how you fall short of their expectations. But their insights are worth the discomfort.

Although lost customers may represent a series of disappointments to you, you may find their individual experiences invaluable when you focus on your business-planning efforts. So, take the initiative and contact some of the customers who walked to find out why. Employ the following tips to contact the missing:

  • Hang around places where people buy similar products or services. Engage these customers in conversation. A few of these people were probably your customers at one time, and they can tell you something important about why they aren’t your customers any longer. Be sure to make them feel comfortable about giving you honest criticism.

  • Use mailing lists or old customer registration data. Ask lost customers why they left and what you can do to get them back. If you’re too shy to ask customers directly, a number of online survey tools exist that make asking the questions easy and answering them even easier. Because lost customers remain anonymous, these tools encourage a more honest response.

  • Advertise a toll-free number or an e-mail address. Encourage current customers to contact you with any complaints

You may think that when customers take their business elsewhere, it points to a failure on your part. On the contrary, these people present an opportunity. The fact that you haven’t been able to serve this group gives you a challenge: finding out what your market really thinks is important. Your competitors’ customers tell you what you lack as a company. This information is extremely useful, especially when you work on the big picture in the early stages of business planning, defining who you are and who you want to serve.

Getting to know your competitors’ customers is often difficult, but not impossible. Follow these tips down the road of discovery:

  • Spend some time where customers gather. Use trade shows, user groups, social media forums and group discussions, blogs, and industry conferences to make informal contacts and begin a dialogue with your prospective customers.

  • Ask pointed questions of people who choose competing products:

    • Did they take the time to see what was available on the market?

    • Have they even heard of your goods or services?

    • If they have, did they actually take the time to look at them? If not, why not? If so, what were their impressions?

    • Listen to what they have to say, no matter how painful. Don’t get defensive if people say negative things about your company or products.

Information about your customers is valuable, if not priceless. Consultants charge you thousands of dollars for much of the same stuff, but they can often get to information you can’t. How you use outside help depends on how much info you can gather first on your own.

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