Do You Know When—And Why—Your Customers Have Left You?

Every business will gain and lose customers over the course of the business’s lifetime. Of course the hope is that there will be more gains than losses; however, sometimes businesses find themselves in the opposite situation and struggle to understand why their customers are leaving. While creative companies could come up with a myriad of creative and complex metrics and measurement techniques to try to gain some insights, one of the best ways to determine why customers are lost is to ask them!

The first step, of course, is determining whether or not they have been lost—which isn’t as easy to do as it might seem. For example, if you have a subscription-based, or membership-oriented product or service, you can easily tell whether someone fails to renew their subscription. But what if you operate a restaurant? Or a retail outlet? Or a healthcare organization? In these instances, it’s not so easy to determine exactly when a customer, or patient, has been lost. A good approach for businesses like these is to establish a timeframe after which they’ll consider a customer to be “lost.”

We worked with a healthcare business several years ago where we selected 3 years, or 36 months, as the length of time with no visits that we would consider a patient “lost.” We developed a simple postcard survey that was mailed on a rolling monthly basis to patients who had not been seen in any departments/facilities across the healthcare system over the past 36 months. The headline on the card was “We Miss You!” and we asked these patients to share with us why they hadn’t been in to see us for 3 years. We offered a couple of choices with check boxes (moved out of the area, haven’t needed your services, my healthcare insurance coverage changed, healthcare is too expensive, etc.), and an open-ended opportunity for them to add additional comments.

We got a great response to this effort and learned some very interesting information. Most importantly we learned that a large percentage of those we felt were “lost” were not. They still considered themselves patients of our organization, they just had not sought healthcare services in some time. In some cases, patients would view the postcard as a “reminder” to come in and set up an appointment; some even apologized for not coming in. A small percentage of patients had chosen a different system; from them we gleaned some insights about things we might do to improve our services, and service to them.

As we noted, all businesses lose customers from time to time. Sometimes the reasons are purely situational: a business-to-consumer (B2C) customer moves out of the service area; a business-to-business (B2B) customer changes its business model; etc. In these situations, there may not be much you can do to prevent losing future customers in this way. However, when the reasons are poor customer service, declining quality, increasing prices, etc. it’s essential to learn this information and adjust accordingly.

Are you tracking the ebb and flow of your customers to ensure you’re making process improvements and other adjustments over time to meet their needs? If not, we can help.

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