[CUSTOMER RELATIONS] What should we ask customers when they are about to leave us?

Estimated read time: 5 minutes

We recently decided to discontinue a service with a company we’ve been with for over 20 years. I won’t share who it is and what the exact service is but it was a service that required us to actually go to the physical location and stop the relationship.

I’m always interested in seeing how conversations go when customers are about to leave us or scale back what they’re buying from us. 

On this encounter I surprised that they didn’t ask me why we were leaving. Or maybe more importantly: what can we do to keep you as a customer?

Neither question was asked and they simply worked through the process and paperwork to end the relationship.


Now our decision to discontinue this  specific business relationship was totally location-based and I am not sure that they could’ve done anything to keep our business. But I don’t know because I’m not the expert in their business. I’m just the expert at that that specific service didn’t work for me at that point. Based on what I know! 

But the conversation could’ve gone like this:

“I need to cancel xyz.”

“No problem. Let’s get that started. Would you mind telling me why? Is there something we can do to keep your business?”

“I don’t think so. Your service is just not offered near where we live now.”

“Oh. It’s not? <looks at file> We actually have a location 1 or 2  miles from your residence.”

“You do? That must be new.”

“Yes. Just opened at the end of  last year.”

You get the idea. We-the business people and the customers-don’t know what we don’t know. And the way to figure out some of the things we don’t know is to ask questions and to continue the conversation.

Even when a customer is upset-and we weren’t upset at all it was just location-based thing -it’s always good to get the details on what is prompting somebody’s decision.

Why don’t we ask? I don’t know. Maybe we  don’t think about it or maybe we don’t want to hear the answer.

And there are things that we can’t adjust or work on.

“Christoph, your height is intimidating and we don’t like working with you because of that.”

(I’m 6’4”)

????? I mean really, what would I do with that kind of feedback? I can’t work on getting shorter as far as I know. And not that I would want to anyways.

But asking for and truly listening to potentially negative feedback isn’t one of the easiest things to do. For example I always review all of the feedback that I receive from trainings, speaking engagements and other digital marketing projects I am involved in.

It’s so easy to just try to explain away negative piece of feedback. But really we should listen to all the feedback and see what we can improve as necessary or what we can offer to those not happy with the service.

Related: How to deal with negative feedback! 

Now I’ve gone so far that I even publish negative feedback I’ve received on my speaking page-the same page that people visit when they decide whether not they want to hire me to keynote their event.

And sometimes we truly can’t do anything about the situation and maybe the customers leaving us are not actually our target customers. We can’t be perfect and we can’t be perfect for everyone. But we certainly can and should try to be helpful-always.

And finally it should be everybody’s job to keep and get new business. And really the only way to do that is by figuring out how you can help customers solve whatever the problem is they’re trying to solve. And then solve it for them in a way that’s easy.

Sometimes things are out of our control on the front lines. I get it. Here’s an example that comes to mind from a Twitter exchange I had with an airline: 

I basically tweeted this:

Airline A’s first class cost is a lot cheaper than Airline B’s cost on this specific route. I might have to switch over.

Airline B basically tweeted back: 

We hate to lose you. Ticket cost is determined by … 

Of course that’s an A+ for responding and responding quickly but it doesn’t necessarily help me stay with that specific airline. 

So how can organizations get  that immediate feedback and customer-centric approach to continue keeping and expanding customer relationships? Here are some ideas:

  • Make sure everybody understands that they have a role in sales and positive client relationship. Potential motto: We don’t let customers walk out of here without at least trying to understand why they want to leave!
  • Proactivity. Don’t even let it get to the point where people want to leave. Wow them so much with the service and quality of product that they don’t even think about changing.
  • Make it part of the process. When a service gets canceled make sure the first contact asks questions. Not annoying questions and not persistent questions but at least keep the conversation open.
  • Depending on what the service is somebody can follow up. I’ve gotten deals after I’ve been told no and then I simply followed up a week or so later to check in to see if I could do anything to help at this point. That can work if another opportunity for the customer fell through or maybe they just changed their mind but didn’t want to email or call.
  • Send a survey after the fact. Send a quick email and ask for  feedback and then follow up as necessary.

And there certainly is a line of being  helpful and just being annoyingly pushy. Here is an illustration-shall we call it emoji art: 

As long as we’re staying on the right side of that line we are customer centric. When we stay on the wrong side or wander over there we turn into annoying and irrelevant sales pitches.

Questions can help us be more customer centric and that ultimately helps our business long-term. Asking questions can be helpful.

Questions for me? Email me here.