My customer’s leaving. Now what?


Many thanks to Scott Gilbert for suggesting this topic.

Customer departures are painful. But you can turn them into learning experiences (always) and even leverage them into re-gaining the customers (rarely, but o so fruitfully). Here’s how.

Step 1: Create a departure retrospective process

Ideally, conduct a departure debrief with the customer. It’s hard to get their time and cooperation to do this, because by that point they likely feel they don’t owe you anything—and they may also believe that their reasons for leaving are confidential. Still, it’s very useful to confirm the reasons for the departure.

If the customer will not cooperate, hold the debrief anyway, with the internal team. Determine:

  • The reason for the departure. Bad product fit? Change of management? Did not achieve value? Wanted a specific feature that you did not release? Bad support experience? Cutting costs? Etc. It may be a combination of factors.
  • Whether you continue to have loyal champions within the organization. They would be essential for re-engaging, and if they move somewhere else they can be ambassadors for you there, too.
  • Whether the customer achieved value with your product. Yes, they are leaving, but they may have achieved some/all their goals. That will be useful for re-engaging.

Step 2: Position to re-engage

Assuming that the departure is not caused by a general hatred of your company and product, it’s a great idea to follow up with departed customers. Try these approaches:

  • If you have a friendly contact/champion, follow up after a few months to see whether they are successful with the new product/service.
  • If the departure was ordered by incoming new management and you hear of another change, follow up with your remaining contacts (it pays to have lots of contacts!)
  • If the departure was linked to a downturn and the company is now doing better, reach out if they did attain value in the past.
  • If you release a feature that the customer wanted, reach out and let them know.

Keep the follow-up conversations focused on the customers’ goals and needs. If you see an opening, you can re-pitch.

Step 3: Conduct a meta-analysis

Beyond trying to recapture individual customers, analyze the departure rationales to find trends.

  • Is the product badly broken? Get the issues fixed before more customers decide to leave.
  • Are there product fit issues? Change the qualifying and selling process to acquire customers whose needs align with the product.
  • Are there service issues? Address them.
  • Are customers ignored until the breaking point? Start or improve a customer success process.

Keep the follow-up conversations very much oriented towards the customers’ goals and needs.


Do you have a customer departure retrospective process? How is it working for you?

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