Best Practices in Handling the Loss of a Customer

No business enjoys losing customers. But for some businesses, it’s a lot more damaging than for others. A grocery store, for example, can withstand a single customer going over to a competitor, possibly without noticing any business impact. But a food distributor serving eight grocery stores is going to feel some real pain if one of those stores takes its business elsewhere. For some industries comprised of small markets of large consumers, there may be a limited pool of candidates to replace a lost customer, and often the question is, “can we get them back?” Well, it’s certainly not easy. Leaving a B2B relationship is costly for both companies because the customer has to spend time and money finding a replacement vendor as well as a lot of effort adjusting its business processes to work with a new partner. Consequently, they won’t be eager to switch back just like that. But in the long run, it is possible to win back a lost customer.

Find Out Why they Left

Dave Mattson, writing for Entrepreneur, says, “Customers don’t walk away without reason, so get to the heart of why this one left.” Obviously, the best source of information here is the customer themselves. If it’s an amicable split, they may tell you what they felt you were lacking. But an angry customer may be an even greater source of information, because they won’t care about hurting your feelings. But you also need to be introspective. “Be honest with yourself,” says Mattson. “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.”

Don’t Make it Personal

Losing a B2B customer is painful. There are often very close relationships between the business leaders and key staff from both organizations. It’s almost like a relationship breakup when the customer is lost. But it’s crucial to not make things personal. After all, it’s business. Sometimes the separation is purely situational: the economic environment is always in flux — technology evolves, government regulations come and go, and business needs change. It isn’t necessarily a betrayal if a customer leaves your business.

Sometimes a customer might legitimately have some gripes with the way you’ve treated them or with your level of quality or service. Even in these cases, it’s important to keep emotion out of it. Again, it’s business. It shouldn’t get emotional. Don’t take it personally, and you just might have a shot at their business again if the pendulum swings back your way.

Maintain Channels of Communication

As noted above, B2B relationships often involve a lot of close personal relationships. It’s important to maintain those. Keep in touch with counterparts. Say hi at industry events. Invite them to lunch. It’s hard to make these kinds of connections, so don’t let them go just because they aren’t currently a customer anymore. When their needs change again, you don’t want to have to rebuild the relationship.

Demonstrate Change

Whatever reason a customer had for leaving, it’s important to demonstrate that things are different. Why would they come back if the reasons for their leaving are still present? If there were management, quality or service issues, demonstrate how you’ve made efforts to and been successful at remedying those. If your offerings didn’t fit their changed needs, show them how your business has expanded or shifted and might be a good fit again.

In the B2B world, it can take years to secure a customer. That’s one of the reasons it’s so painful to lose them. But just because a customer parts ways doesn’t mean they can’t be won back. But it does take a lot of genuine introspection and hard work.

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