By: Alice Wheaton
You can only gain customers from three sources: new business from new clients (strangers), new business from existing clients (keepers), and business from past clients (deserters).
A client once corrected me during a sales training session and said:
“No, Alice, they’re not deserters. They are usually deserted.”
I thought, Yes, that’s right! The client rarely leaves if they have been well cared for. So, let’s talk about how you can get those clients back with you where they belong. To do this, you must drain the swamp to get to the bottom of the issue. This means you need to meet with them and find out what caused them to leave in the first place. Only then can you do something about their desertion. After all, chances are that your competition is not doing a perfect job either and your past client might be looking for the opportunity to come back to your company.
You need to have an open discussion with them. You need to be able to make a call and say:
“My name is Janis Smith, and I am with XYZ Company. I know that you used to consider our company to be a trusted supplier but then you left—probably because we let you down. I’d like to come and explore that with you. I can’t say for sure that I’ll have any suggestions or solutions, but I’d sure like to know what we did to disappoint you.”
When the client understands the context of the meeting, they will likely agree to meet with you. When you arrive there, and they begin to tell you what went wrong, the worst thing that you can do is to justify, defend, or make excuses for what happened. If they complain about the quality or efficiency of your services and you respond with, “Well, you know, it was a difficult time for our company,” or, “The market was such that our prices had dropped,” you are justifying and defending and that worsens the situation.
Instead, it is important to respond simply and humbly to each complaint: “Thank you, I’m sorry that happened; tell me more.” This response is important because when you defend and justify what happened, you appear to be self-centered instead of client-centered which is what you promised to be.
Do have the grace to take responsibility for everything that caused your client to leave. Do not assign responsibility to your client. Don’t ever say:
“Well, you know, your project manager just couldn’t get his act together. We tried hard to work with you, but your project manager just would not cooperate.”
That may have been the case, but if you are trying to win the client back it is better to simply say, “You know what? If times were different, I would’ve dealt with that situation differently,” and move forward by talking about the changes in both your and your client’s companies:
“I would like to share with you some of the changes since we worked together because between now and then, changes have happened in your company and mine. I would like to share some of the process improvements we have made that now ensure an overall satisfaction rate of 98% from our clients. We hired new project managers and required existing project managers to be re-certified. For that reason, I wonder if you would reconsider giving us a second chance. I will personally stay involved at every step of the way.”
If the client still resists, offer the thin edge of the wedge. If you want their business back, say:
“You know, from my point of view, it looks like we can still do business together. What I would suggest, if it’s okay with you, is that we start over, not with a big project but with a smaller one. If we don’t meet your expectations, there’s less risk to you. How does this sound to you?”
Chances are, your client will say yes but you must continue to follow up with them. If you don’t, you and your company will continue to be considered as an insensitive supplier.
Returning to past clients with an agenda to bring them back is simple, but not easy. Most people indulge their instinct to defend and justify past actions. Our instinct is neither to shoulder any responsibility nor to accept blame. But (and I can’t stress this enough) when you’re a 100% accountable and you are 100% responsible, you are 100% trustworthy. Your clients will know when you’re that kind of person. It shows; people pick up on that because the attributes of leadership are universal.
This article is an excerpt from Alice Wheaton's latest publication: