How good are you at saying goodbye?

Brands and customers part company for all sorts of reasons. Relationships are tidal. We outgrow the need for a brand or product, our tastes or priorities shift, we don’t live where we lived or work where we worked or spend our time doing what we used to do all the time, perhaps we decide to pass on the latest upgrade.

And, objectively, that’s a healthy thing. Those ebbs and flows provide markets with movement. They ensure that new players can enter and gain new customers and current players can change their position in a sector as they gain or lose followers.

Wish them well

Most brands have their heads around winning new customers. They seem less certain on how to say goodbye with good grace. But how you do that can, in the longer run, and in the context of your brand, be as important as how you welcome customers in the first place. Wishing them well on the next stage of their journey, and assisting them to start that stage in the best light, may well put you a lot closer to  welcoming them back.

The critical thing is to stay true to who you are and what you stand for, whilst keeping your minds open to opportunities to improve. The key question is, why are they leaving and what can you as a brand learn from that?

  • If you lose business on price, that probably means your value equation isn’t clear enough or strong enough. Don’t try to re-negotiate the result by radically repricing. That just makes your whole value structure look arbitrary and untrustworthy. If you honestly can’t afford as a brand to deliver what they want for the price they’re prepared to pay, then don’t. Explain why you can’t accept the arrangement and politely walk away.
  • If they’re leaving because of a perceived wrong or shortcoming, that probably means your relationship management and perhaps your problem escalation processes are patchy. Acknowledge that they feel the way they do, and (particularly if they have a point) tell them what you are doing to fix the problem they have identified. At least ask if you can be in touch when you have an answer. That keeps the relationship going and shows good faith in looking to rectify a situation.
  • If they’re leaving because they perceive the grass is greener, then you either have lost profile in the marketplace or you have failed to remind your customer of the value you bring. Try to find out what they think your competitor has that you don’t. You could do this through a survey or an interview. The insights gained from this exit poll can be very revealing.
  • If they don’t take up your latest offer, or they go somewhere else for it, then you either haven’t provided them with a good enough reason to change, you’ve lost ground as a brand or you’ve simply asked too much of your customers. Take a long hard look at what you’ve been asking them to buy and whether, in the context of what you’re asking them to spend, their priorities and what your competitors are offering, it’s really worth it for them.

Lifetime value is pretty much a thing of the past.

You have to assume for the most part that customers have a limited loyalty timeframe. You can’t (and often shouldn’t) fight to keep the business at any cost. But you must always fight to keep your good reputation – because at some point, the customer who left you will be ready once again to move on.

How you said goodbye can have a lot to do with whether they boomerang to you or leapfrog to yet another player. Even more importantly, how ex-customers remember you can have a huge influence on whether new customers embrace you.

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