In our last blog post, we introduced the most important question to ask lost customers: How did you leave? By asking this question, you gain insight into your company’s relationship with that customer—where it broke down, and what finally prompted the customer to take her business elsewhere. “How did you leave?” is a big question, though, so let’s break it down into a few more specific investigations.
First: Create a Meaningful List of Interviewees
Before you start your investigation, make sure you’re working with a group of individuals who can give you meaningful answers. You might find some former customers who have undergone a name change, corporate merger, or perhaps no longer have a need for your product. Weed these individuals out and focus on former customers who left your business by choice.
Second: Prepare to Have a Conversation
The questions that follow are a rough guideline for the in-depth dialogue that needs to take place in a lost customer interview. Meaningful information does not come from a simple question-and-answer session—it comes instead from attentive listening, insightful probing, and thoughtful follow-up questions. Most important, you need to convey appreciation for the customer’s willingness to share experiences and thoughts.
The exact nature of the dialogue will depend on whether you are speaking with an individual consumer or a corporate decision-maker. For simplicity’s sake, we’ll refer to a single individual—let’s call her Susan, a Logistics Manager for a Fortune 500 manufacturer. An analogous process would take place if Susan were an individual consumer who recently closed her account with your bank.
Third: Focus on the Six Important Questions
- Why did you choose my company in the first place?
This first question is intended to dig deeper into the needs and expectations of Susan’s business as she was first introduced to your company. You’re looking to find out what problem her business was trying to solve that brought her to your company. She likely chose your company after considering alternatives because she believed you offered a better solution. Why did she and perhaps others in her business think this? With whom was she doing business before? What did she expect as her business began its relationship with you?
- How did the relationship with my company begin?
This question goes one step further from the initial sale and asks: “At the end of the sale, what was your understanding of what you’d get from my company, and did you get what you wanted?” You will also investigate whether there were any onboarding issues, that is, communication breakdowns or pain points as the relationship got underway. Perhaps Susan’s business had a question that was not answered, a problem that was not resolved, or an error in the first invoice that was not corrected. Seemingly minor issues like these at the beginning of the relationship can provide the seed for discontent later on, and they are important to identify.
- What was your experience working with my company?
Now you’re getting into the meat of your relationship with Susan’s business, and she will likely give brief narrative on the high and low points of her experience with your company. Ideally, you’ll find out what was and was not done well, and what needs were met or not met. You’re looking for Susan’s overall view of her experience—what was great? Or cumbersome? How did the relationship change over time? How did her business's needs and requirements change? With these questions you’ll gain essential insight into the everyday events that comprised her relationship with your company.
- When did you first think about leaving?
You’ll likely find a moment in time when Susan’s business first started to consider leaving. Was this a result of a single event or— most likely—an accumulation of events? It’s usually a significant risk for businesses like Susan’s to consider alternatives. Most would prefer to stay with the vendors they have, as long as they are getting what they need. You will want know how Susan’s business got to the point of wanting to consider a change.
- What alternatives did you consider?
With this question, you’re looking for what now resonates with Susan—perhaps her needs have changed or perhaps her experience with you has sensitized her to specific issues that she wants to avoid in the future. There’s likely a process at work here as Susan’s business actively considers alternatives, and your company was likely factored into that decision process, whether you knew it or not. Had you known, there is a strong likelihood that you could have intervened to prevent the loss, even at a late hour in the relationship.
- In the end, who did you choose, and why?
Obviously, this is the question that prompted your investigation in the first place. To be sure, you want to know where your lost customers are going, and why they find those companies a better alternative. You will want to know what resonated with those companies, and where you stood relative to those companies. But you will also want to know the how, because it is in the how that you will understand what you can do to prevent customers like Susan from leaving in the future.
Epley has 25 years’ experience with these kinds of deep dives into the customer psyche. We employ trained researchers to conduct interviews; these researchers are experts who know how to get the full story behind an individual’s relationship with your company and identify the real reason for leaving.
If you’re struggling with lost customers and don’t know where to start, we can help. We offer predesigned and custom research methodologies to help companies manage customer relationships and lower attrition. Click here to learn about the services we offer and get a free consultation.