Among the commonly accepted business precepts is the fact that retaining existing customers is far cheaper than winning new ones. So it makes a great deal of sense to make sure that you are keeping your current roster of clients happy.
But in the real world, that’s not always possible, especially when circumstances beyond your control arise and a customer decides to take his business elsewhere.
That doesn’t mean, however, that your customer is lost for good. In fact, even before your client is fully out the door, start formulating a work-smart strategy for winning back the business. Here are five tips for doing so:
Related: What to Do When You Lose a Client
1. Find out why.
Customers don’t walk away without reason, so get to the heart of why this one left. Be honest with yourself. Conduct a strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (or SWOT) analysis, assessing why your product or service was no longer perceived as having the best value.
What are the company's weaknesses, especially in light of potential changes in the market?
Are you staying current, both in your pricing and level of service? Has the market moved beyond your capacity to stay competitive? How was your relationship with the client?
Look hard in the mirror for the underlying answers. And if you can’t be objective, put someone who was not on that account team on the case. This is not only an important first step to winning back your client; it’s critical in ensuring that more customers also do not depart.
2. Get it in writing.
You need a plan of attack, and that means creating a written plan for winning back the customer. Lay out benchmarks and timelines for when to check in with the client. And don’t wait too long.
Too often companies make the mistake of waiting a year and a half to two years before reconnecting. That’s a mistake.
You need to find ways to stay on a client’s radar by politely touching base from time to time. And while that outreach may seem random to the client, it should be a well-timed part of your written strategy.
Don’t wait for your client to tire of the company that beat your firm. Find reasons to stay connected on a regular basis.
3. Claw your way back.
Don’t necessarily set your sights on completely winning back your client's business . It may make more sense to incrementally edge your way back by taking on smaller pieces of business.
With this "foot in the door" tactic, try to score a smaller "yes," a one-off project. Or you might even provide an entirely different product or service than you have offered before. Then set out to turn a smaller yes into a bigger one.
4. Request an exit interview.
Ask for a meeting with the client to debrief you on the relationship. What were the factors that have gone into the company's decision?
Don’t be defensive. Take responsibility and apologize, if appropriate. Use the meeting as a means for improving but also as a basis for learning more about your client’s needs. The new service provider may not be asking these questions, resulting in there being a potential opportunity down the road to try to win back the client.
5. Fire yourself not the firm.
A great vendor-client relationship is often akin to dating or even a marriage. Sometimes the chemistry is just not there.
So ask the client, “Is it me?” Sometimes two companies are a good fit, but perhaps not the two owners in particular. You may need to fire yourself as the leader of the project for the sake of retaining the larger relationship. Asking this tricky question may lead to a much deeper and honest conversation that will lay the groundwork for winning back the client.
Finally, don’t become too emotional. Client churn is a part of the business experience, and once you accept that, however grudgingly, you will also understand that nothing is forever. Look at loss of a client as a new opportunity to win the business back -- and likely at a lower cost than you paid the first time.