It is one of the toughest aspects of business, but we’ve all lost customers at one point or another. What I learned early in my former career as an investment advisor is that the loss of a customer is not the end of the game. Almost any customer can be won back at some point in the future if there was a good relationship at the start. The best way to win back your customer, of course, is not to lose them in the first place.

It’s important to look for cues that your customer is unhappy. Not all of them will tell you outright. If your sense as a sales professional or executive is that your customer is unhappy, they probably are. It’s critical to have the fortitude to preemptively ask whether there is anything you could be doing better for them. Otherwise, you may start to get odd inquiries from your customer about your pricing and on-time delivery record and lead times. If you’re hearing from the top manager at your customer and you only normally hear from the purchasing or sales manager, you could be part of an evaluation to increase your sales to that customer – or to be thrown out altogether. If you observe your customer relationship and it is going at a different speed and in a different direction than normal, the customer must have “collided with” something in the interval that you would do well to learn about.

So what happens when you do lose a customer? An executive recently shared with me a situation in which he lost a customer to another company that had long courted the customer. The executive knew the new company would be unable to deliver on certain key points and that their lower price would not be worth it in the end. It turned out that he was right. When he confirmed his suspicions, did he call the former customer to stress that fact, making the customer take ownership of his error? No, he didn’t. Instead, he let the customer know about a new product he was offering and that he’d love to be able to work with the customer again.

We’re all frail human creatures. We like to see ourselves as making tough decisions like moving to a new supplier and even back again if necessary. We don’t like to admit, though, that we were wrong. Look at your list of lost customers and determine whether there isn’t a face-saving way that you could provide them with the opportunity to return to you. A customer is only truly lost if you never ask them for their business again.


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