General Motors Chairman Edward Whitacre recently instructed his staff to call the roughly 200 customers who returned their cars under a 60-day money-back guarantee offer that GM introduced in September. Mr. Whitacre issued the directive as part of his effort to sharpen GM’s focus on vehicle quality and customer satisfaction.
GM has made plenty of missteps in recent years and they’ve got quite a hole to dig out from. But this latest edict from Mr. Whitacre represents a refreshing dose of common sense that many organizations could learn a lot from.
It sounds so simple – contacting customers who have recently defected or returned your merchandise in an effort to understand why you’ve lost them. Yet it’s an approach that many companies overlook, choosing instead to solicit feedback from current customers or to not solicit any feedback at all.
While observing and surveying current customers should be central to any customer experience improvement effort, the information to be gained from departed customers can be even more powerful. Through them, you get to visit a competitive battlefield while it’s still smoking. The reasons why the customer defected, their entire thought process, is still fresh in their mind and often accompanied by raw emotion. If you can get these ex-customers to share their thinking, it’s an ideal opportunity to really understand where your product, your service, or your brand is falling short.
You might come away from the conversation concluding that the customer isn’t in your target market, and actually is better off with another provider. You might glean some pearls of wisdom that help you track down and fix an operational weakness, or zero in on a future product enhancement.
But no matter what the outcome, it’s the right thing to do and your business will be far better off for having asked the question.