You didn’t even know you lost them. Until you and I decided to take a look at that customer base of yours. There’s been quite a bit of attrition over the years, eh?
Customer fade-away represents not only lost initial sales opportunities. Your organization also loses the opportunity to renew and retain these customers.
Why didn’t you pay attention to these clients in the first place?
Let’s see. Here are some common excuses.
- You were busy chasing after high roller, big name, sexy sales opportunities and got so caught up in the drama, you took your eyes off the rest of your customer base.
- These customers never gave you that much business anyway, so you figured they weren’t “worth” paying attention to, other than a once-a-year order. What, not even send a holiday card?
- The customer only ordered the least expensive products you offered, although they did place quite a few orders during the year. You figured you couldn’t move their purchasing dial past “cheap.”
Just how long did it take for customer fade-away to take place?
Hmmm, the majority of these customers stuck it out for how long with your company?
What? Three years of repeat business you never paid that much attention to? Three whole years of being ignored before they pulled up stakes and decided to do business with someone else?
That’s remarkable. At some point (and for three years afterward), your fade-away customer must have really liked your company for one reason or another.
OK, did your company follow up with the fade-away customer to see why they left? Oh, wait a minute. I forgot. You didn’t even know that customer fade-away happened before we rolled up our sleeves today and got our hands dirty here.
Why are you now paying attention to these faded (and possibly jaded) former customers?
I see. Your organization has an unpredictable revenue stream. And this isn’t the first year accounts payable and receivable look like a roller coaster ride.
So now you and I are determining whether some of your former customers – the ones who had a three year average loyalty span (which you were not even aware of?) – might consider doing business with you again to fix your cash flow issues.
Remind me why, again? Oh that’s right. Because now they have become important to you. [At least until the next big sexy contract comes in-house and you decide to let them fade away, once again.]
Oh, just talking to myself. Out loud. Did you overhear what I just said?
Let’s take a look at these fade-away customers, all of them. They all stayed with you an average of three years. Every year you were in business, a number of them gradually rode off into the sales sunset.
You are telling me they are your target customers? Are they your target customers today or way back when they actually were your customers?
Well, what makes them your targets now?
Ah, I see. Their businesses grew. These companies became successful and sexy.
Could it be that as your fade-away customers became more successful, they decided it was time to weed through their list of suppliers and make some hard calls?
Just possibly, these fade-away customers redefined and requalified suppliers based on guaranteed level of quality and customer experience. Tell me what their customer experience was like with your company, again?
Could it be that they faded away because they had outgrown your style of treating your customers?
Gee, do you think it makes sense to re-contact them?
Sometimes former customers move off into other directions based on expertise in a specific niche or area of specialization. They end up making all sorts of new supplier friends in their new and successful playgrounds.
If you still want to be “friends” and play with them, you need to contact them. As of this point, your company is out of sight, out of mind. Completely off their supplier radar screens.
Yes, I can see you are embarrassed to contact them “after all this time.”
However, think about it. They have changed. Now figure out whether you have changed for the better, as well.
- Are your products and services an even better fit for them than in the past?
- You have hired a new workforce. So might they.
- You are taking responsibility for what’s gone down in the past.
- Is your Customer Experience Strategy focused on customer retention?
Even if former customers decide you are not a good “fit” for their current business model and needs, at least you exercise some customer experience follow-up diplomacy. That action goes a long way towards reinserting your company onto their radar screen, even as a referral to others.
Yes, this scenario is an excellent example of how not to retain a customer.
Lesson learned, eh? On the other hand, it also is an excellent means of capturing voice of the fade-away customer to develop an improved customer experience strategy which you actually implement.
Have you ever let customers fade-away without realizing it? What did you do to resolve things?
Babette Ten Haken is a writes, speaks and coaches about customer success for customer retention. She traverses the interface between human capital strategy for hiring and developing collaborative technical and non-technical teams. She serves manufacturing, IT and engineering intensive companies. Babette’s playbook of technical / non-technical collaboration hacks, Do YOU Mean Business? is available on Amazon. Visit the Free Resources section of her website for more tools.
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