This is a story about a struggle I experienced that was troubling, to put it mildly.
Has this ever happened to you?
One of your best clients stopped buying from you
Despite your best efforts to provide top-quality products and world-class service, you lost a customer for one reason or another.
What do you do?
What do you say to find out why the customer left and – how can you earn the business again?
This was my struggle:
During the time I was manager of a Supplies Department, one of my best (very best) customers was a large law firm. They bought everything from our company: equipment, service and supplies. This was business I could count on every month.
Great clients and very nice people, but . . .
. . . suddenly they stopped buying supplies from me. I phoned my contact at the law firm and she said they “didn’t need anything.”
After a few calls like this, I knew something was terribly wrong.
Had I offended someone?
Then I checked with our equipment sales manager.
Same story. Silence and no more sales from this client.
I walked downstairs to see the service manager and he said the law firm had cancelled their maintenance agreements. No one knew why.
Finally, I worked up the nerve to phone the customer again
This time I said something very different and asked her a specific question.
It worked. She gave me the (incredible) answer to why they stopped buying.
It turned out to be such a minor thing (not minor to the law firm) but we were able to earn their business back after the president of our company made an appointment for a visit with the partners of the law firm. The problem had nothing to do with my department (whew). It was solved and the law firm began buying again. All was well. What a relief!
Wrong Question to Ask
It could be tempting to call an inactive customer and ask: “Why did you stop buying from us?”
Not exactly the most tactful or effective way to ask
Three tactful ways to ask why they stopped buying:
Here is what works for your call to the customer who no longer buys from your company
(The third question is what worked for me.)
“I’ve studied your account (or reviewed your file) and found that it’s been [length of time since they last purchased] since your company last purchased your [products they bought from you]. I’m concerned that you may be running low on [insert products]. Shall I send you a case today?”
“Last year we had the opportunity to supply you with your [products they purchased from you]. I’d like to ask you a couple of questions and give you some new information about benefits you may qualify for, so you can decide whether it would be worthwhile for you to take another look at what we could do for you in the way of [type of products they bought from your company]. Okay?”
If that doesn’t work, the following question should get an answer from the customer, so you will find out why they stopped buying from your company (This is the call that worked for me):
“I know that not every company is perfect in every way. If there were a way you feel we could improve our products or our service, I hope you will tell me what that is. I would really like to know because I value our relationship (or: I hate losing your business.)”
VERY Important Next Step
After you say this, don’t say a word until the customer speaks.
It may be difficult to stay silent, but it is the only way you will get an answer.
What Else Works?
When a telephone call does not work, an attention-getting email or direct-mail letter – with the right components – can remind inactive customers of the benefits you offer and what they may be missing.
A well-written letter – with a P.S. or note of enclosure beneath your signature – followed by a telephone call will let the customer know you care about their business.