Signs that your customer is ready to defect to competition


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In a customer and provider relationship,  one thing is a given – if the customer is cheating on you it’s more often than not, NOT the customer’s fault but yours – and it calls for some serious pondering.

Happy customers undoubtedly play a game-changing role in your business’ well-being. Not only do they bring in revenues, but they also add value by way of:

  • Giving constructive feedbacks and helping you improve.
  • Validating your brand and reputation.
  • Bring in new customers.
  • Forgiving any one-time mistakes you make, and giving second chances.

I have run my startup, Hiver, for over 4 years now and the most important lesson that I have learned is – Every single customer deserves as much attention as your highest paying customer.

I make sure to personally write to 5 accounts every week, and seek feedback. In the process, another important life-lesson that I have picked up is: You can always decipher that ONE sign of dissatisfaction before they abandon ship. Even cooler if you react early enough to attempt at some damage control.

Usually when a customer is displaying more than one of the below signs, it’s definitely time to act.

Here we go

1. Increase in the number of complaints (especially, all of a sudden)

A customer who is always complaining is unpredictable, and, there isn’t much you can do about it; but you must be on the lookout for an unexplained ‘increase’ in complaints from previously happy/loyal customers.

This could be because:

  • They met a new business which could offer more than you do, or
  • They had a bad experience with you that damaged your relation with them.

Did you know that it takes 12 positive experiences to make up for one unresolved negative experience? That’s what Ruby Newell-Legner says.

2. Silent treatment

Some customers like to complain a lot when they are upset, and some just go silent; but then again, a silent treatment could also mean that they are looking out for, or have already found another prospect.

For example:

A customer after logging a request, goes all silent on you.


Your customer usually has long conversations with you, but all of a sudden, they are not-so interested in building a bond with you, and they hang up the moment you say ‘I’m working on it’.


After you said you cannot help with a special request by your customer, they say ‘it’s okay’ but have stopped communicating with you afterwards.

The fact of the matter is that, it is much more harder to make up to customers who are giving you the silent treatment because without communication it’s hard to figure out how.

3. Not interested in your offers or updates

Say you call a loyal customer with updates, or an already popular cost-cutting seasonal offer, and still fail to elicit a response – he’s probably halfway down to your new on-the-rise competitor.

Another sign would be – unsubscribing from your updates, and newsletters.

My friend’s company had these amazing seasonal offers and one of his most loyal customers used to avail them every year, but last year he didn’t. My friend didn’t consider it as a big deal until he lost his customer a couple of months later.

Of course there could be other many not-so threatening reasons for an odd customer behavior , but it definitely wouldn’t hurt to check up on them and see if everything is okay.

4. Decrease in ticket size

This is a fairly useful and obvious way to measure the continuing happiness of your customers, with your product/service.

For instance, a customer who always does an yearly renewal of your product suddenly switches to a monthly renewal. This is definitely odd and if you don’t take action in time, it’s possible you will lose the customer for good.

Note this though, it is not sensible to run after every priorly loyal customer. HBR  says that – It is important to measure customers loyalty against their profitability and know when to let go and when to hang on.

5. Talking about your competitors with you

Well, this is more like a direct attack. The customer calls you up or mails you, explicitly stating what you lack that your competitors can offer.

This is usually done to try and get a better deal out of you or to simply express their discontent; it is a definite sign that your customer will leave you if you don’t match up to your competitor.

Remember that loyal customers may keep you on your toes in terms of better service requirements, but they don’t give the impression that they are leaving.

6. Decrease in willingness to give explicit feedbacks and reviews

When it gets increasingly difficult to obtain a referral or a review from your loyal and supposedly happy customers, something is wrong.

Refusal to give feedbacks to help you improve your product/service is also a bad sign.

Also, not procuring enough feedbacks from customers is very bad for business, as you cannot establish an actionable way to improve your product.

“Ask your customers to be part of the solution, And don’t view them as part of the problem.”- Alan Weiss

7. Beating around your proposition

When you approach a customer with a new proposition and the customer is too indecisive, and corresponds with you asking the same questions over and over, and expressing unfound doubts, implies the customer isn’t trusting you enough.

Such customers are usually very easy to lose.

According to marketing metrics, the probability of selling to an existing customer is 60-70%. The probability of selling to a new prospect is 5-20 %. If odds like that are not working in your favor, you should start digging for the reasons.

8. Frequent unreasonable requests/demands

Well, when a customer is asking you to paint the town red for them (metaphorically of course), it surely can’t be good.

They are either unreasonable by nature, or it could have been triggered by a bad experience with you, or by the fact that they have a lot of other prospects.

In scenarios like this, you must judge well on whether to invest time in this customer or not. If the customer is less profitable and more troublesome, then it would be smart to cut him loose now.

As a business, especially if you are a growing one, every single customer is important. If you lose a customer, it is important to take time and figure out why – is it because of your bad service, or because your competitors are better, or because that customer wasn’t a good target in the first place? This retrospection will help you make better decisions for your business in the future.

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Niraj Ranjan
Niraj is the founder of Hiver (formerly GrexIt), an app the lets you share Gmail labels with other Gmail users. Niraj works on programming, customer support and sales, and also contributes to design and UI. He's a fusion music aficionado, loves to play the guitar when he can.


  1. Of the customer life stages, risk is perhaps the most important and the most challenging to manage and mitigate. There are some excellent ideas here. Two others for consideration:

    1. Identify how the customer has experienced change in performance over time. It’s valuable to understand where these changes are taking place, particularly when the performance (emotional or rational) is seen as declining.

    2. Since a low percentage of b2b or b2c customers with negative issues or complaints will actually voice them in the first place, it’s incumbent on a company to identify the nature and severity of unexpressed complaints.

    With this kind of insight in hand, an organization can effectively go about the task of repairing the perceived value proposition.


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