By Shannon Belew, Joel Elad

Don’t wait until your online business loses a customer to finally take notice. By paying attention earlier, you can anticipate trouble brewing in the distance. Here are some warning signs that a customer is getting ready to leave:

  • A drop in orders: A sure sign of customer dissatisfaction is a sudden or steady decline in orders.

  • An increase in returns: Cross-reference customer order histories with return rates. A high number of returns or exchanges can shed light on unhappy customers.

  • A spike in complaints: An increase in service calls, in e-mails, or in the use of online real-time support can indicate a growing problem.

  • Unresolved complaints: Similarly, customers who have outstanding or unresolved concerns are likely to start shopping with competitors soon.

  • An increase in online chatter: Monitor blogs, community forums, and social networking sites (such as Facebook or Twitter) to find discussions about your online business. An increase in negative mentions or in complaints on social media is easy to spot and especially worrisome. If a customer has a valid complaint, others usually spread quickly alongside it.

  • A drop in response rates: If your purchasing incentives sent by e-mail or direct mail have gone unnoticed, you have a problem. A steady decline in the response rate to these types of offers usually means that customers are shopping elsewhere or are frustrated because the offers don’t address their needs.

  • Bounced e-mail: This situation is a sure sign that you’re losing a customer. Even if an undeliverable e-mail is just a mistake (a customer changes an e-mail address or forgets to update an account), you’re losing touch with her and she doesn’t even have the opportunity to respond to you.

  • Opting out of e-mails: Customers who take their names off your mailing list are sending you a clear message. Respect their wishes, but use the opportunity to ask why they’re no longer interested in receiving offers from you.