Once your client decides to leave, whether by not prolonging their contract at its end or by stopping using your services abruptly, there’s usually not much talk involved, let alone a detailed explanation provided by them.

They just want their out and move on. Although their departure might be hard to swallow both emotionally and financially, that’s exactly where you should step in and ask for feedback. Thanks to this article you’ll know how to do it right in order to squeeze the most insights out of those conversations.

They already made up their mind… why should I talk to them?

Exit interviews are invaluable when it comes to collecting qualitative data you wouldn’t otherwise get. Many companies wrongly assume it’s already too little too late to change anything since the decision has been made. In fact though, it’s the best opportunity you’re gonna get to learn from your own mistakes and improve your business!

Don’t wrap it up by just sending the last invoice and a “thanks for doing business with us” note, hoping one day they’ll come back. Don’t assume you know the reasons behind their decision either – it could’ve been made for any number of reasons, plus people that experience your business’s value first hand might share some fresh and interesting insights.

Reach out to your leaving clients and actually ask them about their experience, while this will probably not change their mind immediately (and should not be your intent either), it might help you prevent other clients from leaving for similar reasons after you fix the ones that made someone else leave. Plus, it will help you leave a better impression at the close.

When to ask for an exit interview?

After they tell you they are leaving, the clock starts ticking and your clients will care less and less with time. The sooner you ask for an exit interview, the better. This will then not only provide you with valuable information you can use internally to improve client retention, but will also prove that you care and are focused on improving quality and customer experience.

However, you don’t have to sit around passively and wait for the next churn to happen, you can already start acting and reach out to the recently churned clients – just make sure to talk to the ones that haven’t forgotten you yet and can provide relevant feedback, so segment your churn list first and focus on the last quarter or so. Typically there’s little value from interviews with clients that have left a long time ago, so you want to focus on a limited timeline.

Can I turn them back?

Some clients are not shutting the doors on you completely and may return to using your services in the future, so it’s always a nice touch to show them you take their feedback to heart and fix some of the reasons they left in the first place. If your terms of service require a notice period, it’s a perfect occasion to try to apply at least some portion of what they’ve shared with you and show them you can do better in the future and their voice actually matters. Force your team to act on feedback quickly. This will not only increase the odds of your customers staying or coming back – it will build up a culture of acting up on feedback – and fast.

Conversation or survey?

I’m a big fan of all things personal in customer service. Information you can collect by actually interviewing your clients can provide you with more than basic answers which are more often than not too short or misleading, your (likely unhappy) customers might also appreciate a call more than an automated message. Having a conversation with them will help you better understand their pain points and will allow you to ask in detail whenever something unclear comes up.

In larger businesses, the number of churning clients may be overwhelming and you simply might not have the resources to talk to every leaving client – in those cases sending a survey is your best option, but it’s just a start. Remember you can still talk to chosen churned clients as a second step and make the best of it. Criteria for segmenting those can be various, depending on your priorities. It’s usually best to take notice of those who took the most net value by leaving.

While exit interview in a form of conversation, even a short one, has lots of benefits, it does come with some shortcomings that surveys address though. Answers to open-ended questions are often subject to interpretation and might take a lot of effort to analyse on your end, so introducing a drop-down list of possible answers will make it easier for you. Remember though that the whole point of sending the survey in the first place is to invite leaving clients to share their feedback, so leave some room for their comment as well by posting at least one open-ended question inviting them to explain their reasoning.

What questions to ask?

Exit interview is supposed to be an honest conversation between two parties. Write down a few questions that, apart from helping you understand your client better, will prove useful while you moderate the talk and standardize your process. Try to avoid any suggestive tones and keep your questions separate to make sure the answers you hear are not affected by YOUR interpretation of your client’s decision for leaving and so they don’t get confused what the question is about. Be open minded.

If you don’t conduct regular customer surveys or checkups, where they’re asked to rate their experience in any numeric way, now is the time. While it might not be the best idea to pose a NPS question to find out whether they are likely to recommend your services (probably not, let’s face it) during the interview, a numeric point of reference always comes in handy to actually measure your clients’ experience. Don’t start off with a numeric question though, as this might set a wrong, study-like tone to the conversation that should be casual. Most of all, you want to LEARN about their experience, so use open-ended questions that leave enough room for expression and only after you hear them out, to help you better understand their opinion, ask them to rate their experience on a defined scale (I recommend a regular Likert scale of 1-5, that’s the most intuitive one for starters).

Asking for feedback at the close is actually a lot to ask. Respect your ex-client’s time and keep the conversation short, you shouldn’t need more that a few questions ready at hand.

Consider some of the following ones and customise them to your business if necessary:

What made you leave?

What did you like the most about our service?

What didn’t you like the most about it?

On a scale 1-5, how would you rate your experience with us?

What would have prevented you from leaving?

What’s the one thing we could do better?

Next steps

Well, as you probably have already assumed – the real work starts after the interviews. You have to change your organisation if you want to improve customer retention.

Each business may face different challenges and have different areas to improve, there are some notorious reasons for churn that you might expect to address though – according to studies, about 85% of customers stop doing business with you after a bad customer service experience, so look for any hints on that first.

Even if you can pinpoint the exact reason for churn in your organisation, it’s super important to share what you’ve learned with the whole team. Teams way too often have only partial understanding of what’s going on, especially if their day to day work does not involve facing clients that already use your services. Your sales, marketing and product teams can all use this information to improve their work and deliver the best final results.

Final tips

Exit interviews can easily turn into a bitter complaint (“yes! They finally called so I’m gonna show them what I really think about their service!”), but it’s very important that you don’t get into an argument with an unhappy client or try to defend your company. Instead, figure out what went wrong and what you can do to prevent similar situations in the future, they will definitely have some suggestions for you if you only ask and listen.

Always take notes. Write down as much as you can and share your conclusions with your team – trust me, they’re just as eager to find out what customers think as you are. Analysing loads of text can be super tough, so look for some online tools that will help you identify keywords and popular phrases – this will also help avoid subjective interpretation on your part.

Last, but not least – BE PREPARED! Don’t pick up the phone without prior research about the client. Check if they ever experienced any mistake at your hand, whether they asked for help a lot, used your service actively or not, etc. There’s nothing more annoying than receiving a feedback call from someone who has no clue how the cooperation went and what’s the basic history there. Empathy will get you far, remember how you stopped using someone’s service?