What do you do when a customer tries to leave your business? Whether you’re a freelancer who wants to avoid getting “fired” by a long-time client, or a retail location that wants to keep up steady traffic of repeat business and referrals, it’s important to maintain your customer relationships. But sometimes, what happens when a customer decides to no longer do business with you can be one of the most important ways to keep making your business better. If you learn from it, even going through the experience of losing a customer can help you gain more customers in the long run.

I recently needed to cancel a life insurance policy because I had bought a new policy from a different agent. So when I contacted my existing policy’s insurance agency (State Farm agent James Lunders) to cancel the policy, instead of just saying “OK” and sending me some cancellation forms to fill out, James Lunders did something interesting: he asked if he could talk further with my wife and me to make sure we were getting a good deal on the new policy.

“I just want to make sure you’re getting good advice from this other insurance agent,” James said. “And I want to make sure you’re getting set up with a policy that’s a good fit for your needs. And if not, I want to see if we can offer you something that would be better.”

This was an interesting experience from a customer service perspective. And it made me wonder, how often do small businesses let their customers walk away without taking a moment to ask them why?

Don’t let a customer leave until you ask: “Why don’t you want to be our customer anymore?” It never hurts to ask, and the answer might help you keep that customer and many others.

Every time a customer chooses to stop doing business with you is an opportunity to find out why. Often the reason that customers leave your business has nothing to do with you or your business – sometimes people just decide that they don’t need what you’re selling, or their budget shrinks, or they find a different way to get what they need, or their needs change.

But if you’re losing customers because something isn’t being handled correctly in your business, you need to hear that feedback. If you recently changed the recipe of your customers’ favorite cookies and they don’t like the new version, you need to hear about it. If some of your business practices or processes have become frustrating or cumbersome to customers, you need to know. It’s fine to lose customers if you decide that they are no longer the right fit for your business. But it’s a missed opportunity to lose customers just because of poor communication, misunderstandings, or a build-up of small problems over time.

In the end, after consulting with James Lunders (my “old” insurance agent), we realized that my new life insurance policy was a better fit for my overall needs. But I appreciated the time he took to review my situation and offer some advice. And in the future, I’ll be more likely to consider working with him again and recommending his agency to others. So even if you can’t keep a customer, it still helps to have the conversation and ask them “why.”

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