December 5, 2022

small business advice

Stop Customers from Leaving

Jerry Osteryoung | 6/22/2009
It is 20 times harder to get a new customer than it is to keep an existing one. Therefore, if customers are leaving your business, you need to find out why and take the necessary corrective action to prevent more customers from departing.

We have three dogs in our house: two black labs and an elderly Shih Tzu. As our kids have left, these animals are part of the family, and their welfare is very critical to my wife and me.

Over the years, we have had many dogs and cats. At one point in time, we had three dogs, a cat and two large birds. Our vet bills have probably averaged over $3,000 a year. We have been taking our many pets to one veterinary hospital for at least 15 years, and we have been very pleased with the care our animals have received.

However, about six months ago, Sophie, our 4-year-old black lab, had something seriously wrong with one of her eyes. I called our vet’s office and was told that none of the vets were in. The person on the phone said I should take our dog to the emergency hospital, but when I told this person that the emergency facility did not open for six hours, he said that he had no idea where I should take our dog.

I ended up taking Sophie to another vet who treated her eye. Sophie is now doing great — no doubt because I was able to get her prompt treatment.

Given the potentially dangerous treatment (or lack thereof) that I received at the first office, I have not gone back, despite the fact that the vets are all very nice people. I get reminders to go back for check-ups, and I rapidly discard them. I now take our animals to the veterinary hospital that was available to help with Sophie’s eye.

Now, obviously the original veterinary hospital has realized that we have not brought our animals back; but they have yet to call and inquire as to why we have not returned. If the vets or one of the staff had called, we would have told them the problem, and we might still be customers. Also, had they called or contacted me, they would be aware of the situation, and they could have easily fixed the problem to prevent others from leaving for similar reasons.

You can learn so much from a customer that is leaving or has left. Given the energy and effort it takes to change from one vendor to another, you can be relatively certain that something has gone very wrong when a customer leaves. It is imperative that you find out what happened both to attempt to salvage the relationship with this customer as well as to fix the problem for future customers.

Now go out and make sure you have a policy in place to deal with customers that leave your business. A telephone call is probably the best method because it allows you the opportunity to glean as much information as possible. You just cannot afford to disregard your former customers.

Jerry Osteryoung is the Director of Outreach of the Jim Moran Institute for Global Entrepreneurship in the College of Business at Florida State University, the Jim Moran Professor of Entrepreneurship; and Professor of Finance. He was the founding Executive Director of the Jim Moran Institute and served in that position from 1995 through 2008. He can be reached by e-mail at or by phone at 850-644-3372.

Tags: Florida Small Business, Entrepreneur

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