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An untapped market of previous purchasers may be lost in your database.
An untapped market of previous purchasers may be lost in your database.

Looking for – and finding – a business’ ‘lost customers’

While many businesses focus on new customer acquisition, BARRY URQUHART extolls the bene ts of re-engaging past shoppers who may have been forgotten.

Intentionally or, as is more often the case, unintentionally, a considerable percentage of a every retail business’ customers are ‘burned’ – left unregistered, unacknowledged, and ultimately forgotten.

This is an expensive reality, as the revenue and potential referral value of these ‘lost’ customers needs to be replaced with new ones – and fast, if cashflow is to be maintained.

Interestingly, few business owners and managers have formulated, documented and implemented strategies and tactics to address lost customers.

Accelerating trend

Speaking generally, many businesses have forecast a ‘churn-rate’ – the rate of customer attrition–of around 20 per cent per annum, though the actual figures do vary depending on the sector, geographic locality, and the size and nature of the individual business.

However, a doubling of traditionally accepted rates has not been uncommon during the pandemic.

As a result, some businesses have turned their focus to customer “farming” – attempting to “win” new customers through enticement, canvassing and development.

Yet, at the turn of the Millennium and the release of my two books, Serves You Right! and Service Please!, detailed research had already established that it was some six times easier, cheaper and faster to retain customers than it was to attract new ones.

The vagaries of the coronavirus and the innate transactional nature of online purchasing has since elevated that ratio to 10 times or more.

Estimates of lifetime value and duration of the customer relationship have changed significantly, with low expectations of loyalty, referral and repeat business.

Defence strategies

Notwithstanding the high velocity and volume of customer attrition, it is evident from consumer feed back, behaviour, perceptions and expressions that many service providers lack disciplined, structured and supported follow-up and follow-through initiatives.

“Many business leaders readily accept the loss of customers as an unavoidable reality; few conduct ‘exit interviews’ to identify key causal factors of customer attrition and opportunities to recover lost customers.”

Put simply, many business leaders readily accept the loss of customers as an unavoidable reality; few conduct ‘exit interviews’ to identify key causal factors of customer attrition and opportunities to recover lost customers.

In this case, ignorance is not a virtue – it is expensive and unnecessary.

To ameliorate customer attrition, initiating personal contact is a sound first step; a concerted effort to reacquaint with past customers who have been ‘lost’ to the business during the past 12, 24 or 36 months can be fulfilling, rewarding and financially beneficial.

Many businesses find in them a rich pool of ‘new’ demand, revenue and profits as many past customers have, in the intervening years or months, been exposed to less- than-satisfactory competitors.

As an aside, it is important for businesses to regularly update records, as people frequently change their address, mobile number, and life circumstances; within nine months, active customer databases can be reduced by as much as 60 per cent.

Additionally, like past customers, a significant percentage of market research respondents are flattered to be asked about their opinions, values, beliefs, perceptions and intentions.

These are emotional responses and foster a belief of personal importance and relevance, which can acts as a pure subliminal force to encourage positive affect and engagement with a business.

Regularly talking to, and interacting with, existing, past, and prospective customers is powerful – marketing is, after all, founded on opportunism, communication and satisfying needs!

Using the data

Strategies, tactics and actions that seek to redress customer attrition rates need to be planned, monitored, analysed, refined, extended and supported.

Moreover, they should – like all strategic marketing plans – be scheduled, reviewed and measured for efficiency and effectiveness. These initiatives can’t afford to be random, casual ‘time-fillers’.

Ultimately, ‘churn-rates’ represent scope for broadening and extending the customer base; indeed, lost customers can reasonably be deemed to be an attractive target market, as noted earlier in this article.

History and countless case studies have established that retrieved customers can typically and readily be converted to be strong advocates and ‘ambassadors’ for the business.

In the sporting arena, coaches are inclined to recite the adage, “The game is not lost until the final siren is sounded.”

So, when it comes to lost customers, play on!



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Barry Urquhart

Contributor • Marketing Focus

Barry Urquhart is managing director of Marketing Focus. He has been a consultant to the retail industry around the world since 1980. Visit: or email

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