Winbacks: Customer Service and Winning Back Customers

Business is hard. Besides getting people’s attention to begin with, gaining customers is the hardest part. So once you have customers, there’s very little doubt that holding onto them is the most important thing you can be doing to ensure your business’ continued success.

Let’s Talk About Customer Winbacks

I’m going to lump the idea of the winbacks in with the broader topic of customer service. Why? Because except when there’s a monetary incentive on the table winbacks, which are often thought of as sales endeavors and handled by sales departments, aren’t really about sales, at all. Pure and simple, winbacks are a customer service—or some kind of service—activity.

would you rather listen?

Customer Service is a big deal in these parts, so it’s no surprise that I was moved to wax prolific when our old buddy Fred Wilson posted about the subject of winbacks. And at Fred’s bastion of business leaders, it was also no surprise that many people expressed the same idea I did, if not always for the same reason. Give it a read.

There’s an issue with the idea of Winbacks, though. Most of the time, the idea of having a winback campaign is treated as a revenue issue (ok … it is that … ), when in meaningful terms there’s no reason for ex-customers to respond well to a winback attempt, save monetary issues of their own.

I learned about this when I worked at Verizon (the “real” phone company, not Verizon Wireless). I was a business development manager in the New York City Winbacks initiative, where our job was to convince businesses that had opted to buy Verizon services from resellers instead of directly from Verizon to “come home”.

Verizon Winbacks was a spectacular failure.

We operated in an interesting space; our teams had sales quotas to hit—and so were under the pressures that those create—but were also charged with finding ways to improve Verizon’s image in the business community. Problem was, the Verizon winback campaign was mostly lip service; there were benefits to cutting out the middleman but we weren’t really offering anything new—and in most cases cost more than our resellers did.

In other words, the pitch was disingenuous. And our targets saw through it; they had no reason to buy into the idea of coming home to Verizon.

The solution to this would have been providing great customer service. That wasn’t happening, because … you know, VERIZON … and because we didn’t have the manpower to provide it; we were a sales operation. Our engineering resources reported elsewhere, as did our service personnel.


None of this is especially surprising. As we pointed out five years back, when customer service becomes viewed as a profit center rather than a necessary expense, it ceases to mean anything. And once “customer service” become an oxymoron, you have a big problem—one that invoking a word like Winbacks isn’t going to fix.

There’s no question that maintaining your existing customers is both easier and less expensive than finding new ones. And the low-hanging fruit concept associated with winbacks is difficult to ignore. But without understanding what your customers need and showing them that coming home will deliver it, winbacks are no more likely to succeed than any other sales initiatives.

Makes sense, yes? Wondering how you can re-cast your business for winback success? Reach us here.

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