Written by Ian Landsman in

The Importance of a Customer Postmortem

You lost your customer.

Breathe, it’s okay. It happens. Sometimes, your services just aren’t the right fit anymore, whether because their needs and processes have changed, their leadership has been replaced, or their budget has new restrictions. Those are tough losses, but they happen to every good business. You may have even seen warning signs of change coming, leaving you disappointed but not surprised when they choose not to renew.

And sometimes, you’ll lose a customer after they’ve complained. These losses can sting, especially so. In the customer’s eyes, you did something wrong. You didn’t provide what you promised or what they expected, your product or service was lacking, or something else has come up along the way that has pushed them to complain… and cut ties with you.

These situations suck. You liked your client! You thought you were on good terms! Maybe, you’ve read their complaint and you don’t even understand how that could possibly be their view of the situation.

Take a step back. This is exactly why you need to do a postmortem after every customer complaint that leads to the cancellation of service.

Review The Immediate Circumstances

What happened today, or this week, that pushed the client to this decision? If, unbeknownst to you, the client was feeling more and more unsettled, what was the final straw that broke the camel’s back?

Answer:

  • What happened?
  • Who was involved, and what are their perspectives?
  • Did everything happen according to company processes, or did something go awry?
  • If the client was unhappy with your established processes, why? Is there anything you would change - or was this just not a good fit?
  • If this situation occurred outside of your typical processes (think communication, customer service, pricing, etc.), who made the call to handle this situation differently, and why?
  • Are there any immediate steps you should be taking to prevent this from happening again?

These answers to the short-term situation are a great place to start, but cancellations don’t (always) just happen on a spur of the moment decision. That’s why it’s important to look back at the larger relationship.

Reflect On The Client Relationship

Maybe you knew this was coming, maybe you didn’t. Or, maybe now that you’ve been fired, you’ve realized immediately you missed some pretty obvious red flags. Whatever the case is, it’s critical that you look back at the history of the client relationship.

Answer questions such as the following:

  • How was ongoing communication with the customer - consistent? Engaged? Did you not reach out enough, or were they non-responsive to your outreach?
  • Were the main topics of this week’s complaint (for example, pricing) previously sticking points of discussions in the initial sales process?
  • Has there been a cyclical history of conflict and resolution with this customer?
  • Are there outside factors, such as a competitor’s shiny new similar product getting a lot of buzz? Likewise, have your competitors been more aggressively promotion their services?
  • Don’t feel you must only ask these questions internally. Plenty of customers, if not the day they cancel, will feel comfortable and willing to discuss what they’d wished had gone differently. Ask them - they might give you an earful, but sometimes, this feedback can also be truly constructive.

    Develop an Early Action Process

    Now, take what these conversations revealed, and identify what changes need to be made.

    • Reiterate to your team the importance of strict communication and messaging policies that may have been strayed from in this situation. Be clear as to the problems that can arise when this occurs.
    • Talk to sales people about how they flag clients that may be a bad fit for the company, right from the get go. Salespeople want to sell. They have numbers to hit. But you want the right customers for your business, too. Create a mutual understanding that it’s okay say when a lead isn’t right to pursue further.
    • Train your customer service reps to have a keen eye and ear for red flags. Don’t assume everything is fine, just because the client has been quiet or says things are good.
    • Consider how you can expand on touch-bases with your customers, whether automated or personal (personal is always better, but automation can certainly scale as your customer base grows).
    • Don’t focus on assigning blame and fault, but do have frank discussions about any of your teams’ personal actions that may have led to the situation. Could they have communicated better, changed their tone, responded to questions more quickly or effectively?
    • If the customers’ opinion changed as they were swayed by competing products, address that with your marketing team and see what changes you can make to your messaging and advertising tactics to prevent this from happening again.

    Don’t Dwell On It, Learn From It And Grow

    Like a bad break-up, losing a client can be hard to deal with at first, but that doesn’t mean you can’t turn a negative into a positive. As many of us know, break-ups aren’t always forever, which is why it’s incredibly important to ensure you burn no bridges with the customer. If you valued their business and relationship, let them know. Resolved positively, you can stay friends (okay, so that’s where the relationship metaphor ends, because “let’s be friends” is the worst - but you get what we’re saying). If you were no longer a fit for them, that doesn’t mean they don’t know someone who may be better suited to work with you.

    Consider all of the factors. Reflect honestly on what went wrong and make that assessment actionable in every way that makes sense. You may discover it actually reveals an opportunity to reassess your ideal customer profile. Helping your business grow means developing the maturity and self awareness to decide when it’s OK to let go and know when we made a mistake.

    Whichever way it goes, know that you can do better next time. You will do better next time. Our setbacks only make us stronger and that is one of the greatest gifts of having experience with a variety of customers.

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About the author

Ian Landsman of

Ian is the founder of HelpSpot and also podcasts at Bootstrapped.fm.

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