How to Survey Lost Customers [+ Example Questions]

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Unless your business has an impeccable record of customer retention, you have likely dealt with the loss of a customer at some point.

In many ways, it can feel like a breakup. You are left wondering what went wrong and how you can get them back.

Why not take the time to survey former customers to understand why they’ve taken their business elsewhere?

In this blog post, our market research company defines a lost custom survey and shares example questions to include for the best results.

Ready to conduct a lost customer survey? Drive Research can help. Contact our team by emailing [email protected] or completing an online form.

What is a Lost Customer Survey?

A lost customer survey is a type of market research that collects feedback from former customers or clients to understand their reason for leaving, recommendations for improvement, and if they've left for a competitor.

Don’t underestimate the willingness of old clients to provide valuable feedback and constructive criticism.  

What if you could sit down with your ex and get down to the bottom of why they decided to part ways?

As awkward as it may be, you can understand what needs to be improved for your next relationship. 

This scenario will probably remain in your dreams for romantic relationships, but it can actually be done with former customers for your business with market research.

💡 The Key Takeaway: A lost customer is not one that is gone forever. By surveying this audience you can gain insights that help win them back and prevent future customer retention problems.

Methods for Surveying Lost Customers

There are various types of market research methodologies brands can use to survey previous customers.

Types of lost customer surveys include:

  • Online surveys
  • Phone surveys
  • Mail surveys
  • In-depth interviews (IDIs)

Each methodology has its own pros and cons based on your research objectives, timeline, and budget. From our experience, more organizations choose online surveys because they are quick, cost-effective, and offer quality insights.

Though, if you're looking for more in-depth feedback, phone surveys or IDIs are greater options.

💡 The Key Takeaway: There are many market research methodologies that can help gather feedback from lost customers to learn what factors led them to stop conducting business with your company. Though, online surveys are the most common method.

Importance of Surveying Lost Customers

By taking the time to survey lost customers, you can gain valuable insights and make improvements that can help you retain current customers and attract new ones.

With the right approach and the right questions, you can turn lost customers into loyal customers and improve your bottom line.

Here are just a few of the many advantages of conducting a lost customer survey:

1. Understand where expectations were not met

By surveying lost customers, you will get valuable information about what drew customers to your company in the first place. You can use this to optimize business development strategies and identify your competitive advantages.

You will also need to establish a baseline to understand what was originally promised to the customer.

Somewhere along the line, customer expectations were not met and they felt the need to look elsewhere. Take this time to reevaluate business practices of the past and if it is necessary to bring them back today. 

💡 The Key Takeaway:  Understanding where customer expectations were not met will help your organization prevent a similar outcome for current customers. 

2. Identify what lost customers miss the most 

Although this audience ultimately chose to end their business with your organization, there are likely one or two things they really enjoyed about their experience.

This insight can tell your team what you are doing well. Perhaps 78% of respondents loved your customer service team. Or 1 in 2 respondents enjoyed your fast shipping times.

Whatever the overwhelming response may be, this feedback can tell your marketing team what factors they should place an emphasis on in future campaigns, blogs, or website content. 

Take this opportunity to ask your harshest critics what is best about your organization and run with it! Market research offers a great return on investment for the many ways you can repurpose the data.

💡 The Key Takeaway: Perhaps a customer's experience wasn't all bad! Understanding what you've done well can help your sales and marketing team identify what features should be showcased the most in future outreach campaigns.

3. Determine what factors led customers to leave

The answer to this question will reveal a disconnect between what the customer was looking for and what they actually received. What brought them to the tipping point?

It may be hard to hear, but posing this open-ended question will yield key information.

Swallowing your pride here will pay off, as this is one of the best ways to get honest criticism for your business. You can’t correct it if you aren’t aware of it!

Former customers may also have a lot to say. They may relish the opportunity to air their grievances about their experience with your business.

Every word of it is useful because it will assist you in preventing similar situations down the road.

A third-party market research company can also break down this feedback with different cross-tabulations.

Do answers vary or stay the same among customers who left last year vs. customers who left three years ago?

Are answers similar among Millennial customers vs. customers of the baby boomer generation?

Cross-tabulations of the data will clearly show this.

💡 The Key Takeaway: This is maybe the most influential question: What brought past customers to the tipping point of no return? Some factors may be out of your control, but others will provide you with a clear answer for what areas you need to focus on improving.

4. Identify the competitors lost customers are currently working with

Lost customers may not always be willing to share which company they switched to, but it’s absolutely worth asking about.

Your organization will have a better chance of learning what competitors and previous customers are currently doing business with if the market research study is blinded.

This question will reveal who is truly a threat to stealing your customers in the market. You can also calculate where stolen market share is going by using data from the completed surveys.

Unless there are very few players in the market, you don’t want to make an assumption about who makes up your competitive set.

Other companies that past clients consider meeting their needs may not even be on your radar yet. 

💡 The Key Takeaway: Take the opportunity to assess your competitors in a lost customer survey. Learn how they attracted your past clientele, what they are doing well, and where they are lacking.

Recommended Reading: Ultimate Guide to Conducting a Competitor Analysis

5. And why they chose that competitor

Aim to understand how exactly the competitor bested you. Probe for comparisons in different areas such as price, customer service, product or service quality, timeliness, communication, and other relevant factors.

Knowing how clients view your competition as superior will tell you where to improve or how to better position your brand. The customer’s perspective is key here compared to how your business views competitors.

Also, understand their areas of satisfaction AND how important these factors are to choosing a company. For example, perhaps a customer is very satisfied with your competitor's customer service, but they don't rank good customer service as an important factor when choosing brands to work with.

On the opposite side, maybe the customer heavily values fast shipping times and is not currently satisfied with the shipping times of your competitor. Seeing these as a matrix can help pinpoint the most important areas to focus on when it comes to improving customer satisfaction. 

💡 The Key Takeaway: What factors caused your prior customers to choose a competitor instead? Are their expectations being met? Including satisfaction and importance scale questions will provide these answers.

6. Determine what would cause a lost customer to come back

This question should be posed as a hypothetical, not with the intention of actually persuading a customer to return.

You can learn how to bridge the gap between the client’s expectations and your company’s service. 

For lost customers not included in the survey, you now have a better idea of the messaging and improvements needed to win back their business.

It may be one simple change that could turn the tide, or there may be numerous opportunity areas to reduce the churn rate of lost customers.

There’s also more to gain by expanding these efforts beyond a one-time project.

Incorporate lost customer surveys into a long-term customer experience (CX) program to get the full picture of the customer journey.

💡 The Key Takeaway: Proceed with caution here. Do not sell a customer on your products or services but instead pose the hypothetical question of what factors would most likely persuade customers to try working with your business again.

Recommended Reading: 4 Market Research Options to Examine Customer Churn 

How to Survey Lost Customers

Whether you choose to work with an online survey agency, like Drive Research, or conduct the lost customer survey in-house, here are the steps we recommend following.

  1. Identify the lost customers: You'll need to identify the customers who have stopped using your product or service. You can do this by looking at your customer database and filtering out those who have not made a purchase or used your service within a certain timeframe.

  2. Create your lost customer survey: Create a survey that asks your lost customers about their experience with your product or service. Make sure to include questions about why they stopped using your product or service, what they liked and didn't like about it, and what you could have done differently.

  3. Send the survey to lost customers: You can send the survey to your lost customers through email, social media, or other channels. Make sure to personalize the email or message and explain the purpose of the survey.

  4. Analyze the results: Once you have collected enough responses, use the survey company's analysis tools to identify trends and patterns in the data. Look for common themes and feedback that you can use to improve your product or service.

  5. Take action: Use the feedback from the survey to make changes to your product or service. Consider reaching out to the lost customers who responded to the survey to follow up and address any concerns they may have.

💡 The Key Takeaway: Surveying lost customers with an online survey company can be a powerful tool for improving your product or service and winning back customers. The steps should include survey design, programming, fieldwork, and analysis.

Example Lost Customer Survey Questions

Here are some example lost customer survey questions our customer survey company recommends that are best for collecting feedback and insights from customers who have stopped using your product or service:

  1. Why did you choose our company to begin with?
  2. What did you like the most about working with our brand/product/service?
  3. How long did you use our product/service before you stopped using it?
  4. What caused you to leave our company?
  5. How could we have improved our product/service to better meet your needs?
  6. Which of our competitors did you go to?
  7. Why did you choose our competitor?
  8. Did you find our pricing to be reasonable and competitive with other similar products/services on the market?
  9. How did our product/service compare to our competitors' offerings?
  10. Would you consider using our product/service again in the future? Why or why not?
  11. Is there anything else you would like to share about your experience with our brand/product/service?

💡 The Key Takeaway: These lost survey question examples can help you understand the specific reasons why customers have stopped using your product or service, and identify areas where you can improve in order to win back their business.

How to Use Lost Customer Survey Results

Believe it or not, this select group holds the keys to massively improving your business strategy. 

When you survey lost customers, you’re tapping into a unique source that can help you understand what just isn’t working. 

Again–we know this isn’t the most fun of surveys to run, but the data received is essential to the success of your business. 

Below, our customer satisfaction survey company covers a few ways you can use the results of this kind of survey. 

1. Prioritize Issues

Now more than ever, customers are demanding positive experiences. 

Don’t believe us? Recent research shows that roughly 65% of consumers have upped their expectations for good customer service. 

And that means that customers are less tolerant of existing issues. A survey of your lost customers will reveal where your company missed the mark and how you can do better. 

For example, here are some common customer gripes:

  • Difficulty getting in touch with specific staff members/teams
  • Need to repeat information
  • Overall bad service/products

2. Implement Changes

Once you know the actual issues your past customer have dealt with, you can take action. 

You’ll be able to take whatever critical feedback you receive and turn that into an improved strategy. 

Say the survey feedback revealed that consumers are not pleased with an aspect of your brand’s website. You can take this information and build off of it to create a better website user experience. 

And the same goes for any other relevant critiques you discover. 

3. Continued Measurement 

If you’ve read even a few of our market research blog posts, you’ll know that surveys should be run on a regular or semi-regular basis. 

How often you choose to conduct these depends on a number of factors like business type and budget. But no matter what, conducting more than one survey allows you to stay on top of fluctuations in customer experience. 

Why is this so important? Because things change–especially when it comes to customer satisfaction! 

The criticisms/feedback you receive on your survey will change over time. And the only way to address them correctly is by measuring them from time to time. 

💡 The Key Takeaway: Surveying your lost customers regularly can benefit a business greatly. They’ll help you understand how to improve services and enact positive change within your company.

Remember: This is Research, Not a Pitch

Before surveying lost customers, it is important to let this audience know this is for research purposes and not a sales pitch. 

It is incredibly important to preface the survey by stating it is not an attempt to win back the customer’s business. Any sort of sales connotation will likely spook the former customer into cutting the survey short.

To start strong, put an emphasis on your desire to learn how your business can perform better for future clients.

Partnering with a third-party market research firm is the best approach to take when surveying lost customers.

A market research company like Drive Research can help blind the study to make for a less awkward or spiteful interaction between your team and prior customers. 

This assures past customers are completely honest about their experiences with your organization and their current experience with a competitor, without trying to spare the feelings of the sponsor of the study. 

Recommended Reading: 4 Excellent Strategies for Improving Customer Retention

Final Thoughts

A lost customer survey is the most strategic way to understand why a prior customer is now giving their business to a competitor. In short, it takes the guesswork out of poor customer retention rates. 

By using an online survey company and asking the right questions, you can identify the specific reasons why customers have stopped using your product or service, and uncover areas where you can make improvements.

Survey Lost Customers with Drive Research

Drive Research is a market research company located in New York. Our team of experts is familiar with the sensitivity and prowess to make a lost customer survey successful for any organization in the country.

Interested in learning more about our market research services? Reach out through any of the four ways below.

  1. Message us on our website
  2. Email us at [email protected]
  3. Call us at 888-725-DATA
  4. Text us at 315-303-2040

tim gell - about the author

Tim Gell

As a Senior Research Analyst, Tim is involved in every stage of a market research project for our clients. He first developed an interest in market research while studying at Binghamton University based on its marriage of business, statistics, and psychology. 

Learn more about Tim, here.

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