How to Win Back Lost Customers

Bringing back former customers is as simple as asking and giving them a reason.
April 23, 2012

The Chairman of one of the largest book clubs in the country once told me that his best source of new customers is lapsed customers.

The recovery program is simplicity itself: ask customers to come back and give them a reason to come back. The Chairman said they’d tested different ways of asking and the winner was a charming “pussycat mailing” with a whimsical illustration of a cat begging people to please come back.

Shortly after, a business-to-business client in Queens asked us to develop creative for a new customer acquisition campaign because they had lost 3,700 customer-companies in the last three years. We asked our client got his entire staff on the phone, and within a couple of weeks had won back half of his lost customers. It would have taken him a couple of years, and a lot more money, to get that many new customers.

Eventually I wondered if a recovery program would work for our agency. We’d lost clients over the years, not many, but enough to make it worthwhile to try winning them back. I wrote personal letters to each of them, basically telling them I wanted the opportunity to work on their programs again, especially if they had a tricky challenge. It worked! Two former clients returned to the fold.

So how do you bring customers back?

The first thing to do is recognize that you’ve lost them. Then dig up their information from your files and prioritize them in terms of potential value to your company. Once that's completed, do the following:

  • Write letters to them. I recommend that you test snail mail letters. They look and feel more important. You can back them up with e-mail efforts and perhaps a special Web landing page. If you can test to find the perfect Subject Line, you might be able to do well with just e-mail.
  • Tell your former customers that you miss them and hope they will come back. Don’t write a mass mail or e-mail—keep it personal.
  • Offer something special, perhaps a discount certificate or a unique gift.
  • Test your offers. The results might surprise you.
  • Remind them of the benefits your company offers them as customers.
  • Make sure the letter looks personal. “Write” a signature in blue above the return address on the envelope and sign the letter in blue ink also. You can sign an e-mail letter the same way.
  • When an envelope feels like something is enclosed, it’s irresistible. I just received a Happy Birthday note from Macy’s and it was bulky because it had a $10 Gift Card enclosed. Victoria’s Secret is sending out gift cards, too—not to me but to customers who haven’t been purchasing recently. They enclose three cards with different offers.

There’s a goldmine hiding in a database somewhere in your system. You just have to find it, sort it, clean it up and start tracking and writing to people who, for whatever reason, stopped being your customers.

Of course, it’s a better idea to keep your customers and clients on board in the first place so you don’t have to win them back. But if they've gone missing, just remember that everybody likes to be wanted.

Lois Geller is President and Owner of Lois Geller Marketing Group and headed agencies in New York and Toronto and taught Direct Marketing at NYU. Follow @loisgeller on Twitter and visit her blog Joy of Direct Marketing for more marketing tips.