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Keeping Lost and Former Customers on Your Side

How do you treat your customers after they leave?

Customers appreciate being treated like loyal customers. In fact, organizations that invest in successful customer loyalty programs increase revenue up to 2.5 times faster than their competitors, according to Harvard Business Review.

So why should customer experience leaders care about customers who are no longer customers??

Customers leave a brand or stop purchasing for lots of reasons. Yet they still might be an advocate for your brand, leading to positive word-of-mouth marketing, referrals, and encouragement to future prospects considering becoming a customer.

Consider just a few reasons why a customer might stop being a customer:

Life Phases

As a mom of two, I remember being bombarded with samples, coupons, and free swag from diaper and formula brands. And then they kept bombarding with the same diaper coupons, which don’t feel as relevant when the kid is an independent little person who doesn’t have those same needs. Yet those coupons and emails and promises for dry cribs showed up for a long time!

There is potential here for family and health brands to help families navigate the ongoing journey of childhood. Some brands have done this, but many miss the mark!

Financial services brands understand this, and successful ones see the potential in keeping former customers engaged for the long term.

A customer who starts as a college student with a minimum-balance checking account might leave as a customer because they’re moving to a new area, for example. By engaging the customer with ongoing, valuable, relevant content or tools, that customer will consider that brand if they move back to the area.

Different Needs

Nothing brought this home more than our time during the pandemic experiences of 2020 and beyond. Gyms suddenly closed, shoppers couldn’t wander stores, and travel plans disappeared.

Some brands quickly pivoted, offering new services to meet the demands of these new customer needs. Yet others simply encouraged the same behaviors or “sat out” for a while. Brands that were creative and communicative hung on to customers by offering what they could and maintaining solid relationships.

Orangetheory Fitness and other fitness brands offered at-home workouts available on YouTube. A key differentiating factor was featuring Orangetheory Fitness studio coaches filmed at home. It felt like a community, which is one of the features of working out at a local studio. Since the pandemic, Orangetheory has built more studios around the world, thanks in part to their dedication to customers and how they introduced the brand to others during that time.

Moving On from the Product

Some customers move along because they don’t have any need for the product anymore. A sad but understandable example is how pet parents don’t need pet food after the pet dies. This is an unfortunate but real part of being a pet family.

Chewy, a brand well-known for their attention to customer experience, has been known to send flowers, pet portraits, and notes of condolences to customers who call to cancel their orders due to losing a pet. This act of compassion is often shared by the pet owner with their networks because it’s an act of kindness in a difficult situation.

Lost Customer? Former Customer? Don’t Treat them Like Strangers!

Former customers don’t have amnesia about your brand. They remember how they were treated, not just during their time as a customer, but when they tried to cancel, how the exit was handled, and how they were treated afterward.

Have you ever tried to cancel an arrangement and found the process infuriating as a customer? What do you talk about after that happens? You probably don’t mention the wonderful onboarding experience you had as a first-time customer. You neglect to remember the time the customer service agent really went above and beyond for you. No, you just talk about the frustrating and ridiculous cancellation policies and how you felt at the end of that relationship.

The peak-end rule, introduced by academics Kahneman & Tversky in the 1990s, defined that people are much more likely to remember a highlight (peak) or an event that occurs at the beginning or the end of a journey. These peaks build the perception of what happened and what was most important to remember. So you can see how a poor experience while leaving as a customer will remain the lasting impression of the entire relationship.

Back in the CRM You Go!

A common mistake is when brands have simple categories for prospects or customers. This shows up when a customer, regardless of how long or loyal they had been, leaves a brand just to be treated as a new prospect. They receive postcards that say “try us out!” and offers for “new customers only!” The worst part? Those offers typically don’t apply to returning customers. Instead, a returning customer is in no-person’s-land, not able to take advantage of those enticing offers, yet treated as a stranger.

What Can Brands Do for Former Customers?

In an ideal world, customer experience leaders need to connect with past customers as appropriate. Of course, we can’t invest as much in these former customers. They may simply be done with the brand. That’s ok! Think of these former customers as potential ambassadors and advocates. Then you can get creative about how you communicate, categorize, and connect with them.

Create a customer alumni category for your CRM.

  • These former customers may comment on social media posts or even look for ways to refer others. Recognize their relationship so they can be greeted and acknowledged as a valued past customer.

Consider your customer life cycles.

  • Develop communication campaigns and tools to assist customers as they move through various stages of life. This could include simple steps like recognizing milestones like birthdays and anniversaries.

Actively seek feedback and referrals from your best former customers.

  • Past clients and former customers may not need your product or service anymore, but they might appreciate donations to charity in their name or special swag from your brand. Their feedback and referrals to other customers can lead to valuable insights, improvements, and more. Recognize the relationship as valuable and stay connected.

This is a big topic, and it’s easy to move on from past customers. There are enough things on our to-do list, right!? But these relationships can be valuable and valued in their own right. Focus on how to build on what’s there, and don’t forget to show appreciation for the customers they already were.

That past customer you’re thinking about right now? Say hello. And see what happens.


About Jeannie Walters, CCXP, CSP

Jeannie Walters CCXP CSP small square photoJeannie is an award-winning customer experience expert, international keynote speaker, and sought-after business coach who is trailblazing the movement from “Reactive Customer Service” to “Proactive Customer and Employee Experience.” More than 500,000 people have learned from her CX courses on LinkedIn Learning, and her insights have been featured in Forbes, The Chicago Tribune, The Wall Street Journal and NPR

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