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Harnessing Customer Feedback for a Successful Turnaround: The Lost Art of Calling Your Customers

I noticed a missed call and voicemail on my phone: a client called me back. I immediately listened to her message, “We haven’t had a response to our email in over a week!” An angry message solicited by Yours Truly. I immediately called back, knowing exactly what to say.

“Pam, I understand that she’s not a fit. Let me switch you to Sarah immediately, and I’ll call you back in a month to see how things are going. Anything else I can help you with while we’re on the phone?”

“Actually…we’re fundraising. Think you can help?” Immediately, I got to work. I switched her account manager and reached out to my network to help Pam and her startup out. What could have been a churned client stayed for three more years.

In today’s fast-paced world, where professionals prefer a LinkedIn message or a tweet, the personal touch of a phone call has become nearly non-existent. As someone who’s built a career on the foundational principles of clear communication and straightforward problem-solving, I’ve always believed in the power of direct interaction. It’s why, even as digital surveys and feedback forms proliferate, I advocate for what might seem like an old-school approach: picking up the phone and calling your customers.

Throughout my career, I’ve made it a point to call our customers directly, at least twice a year, to ask how we’re doing. It’s a simple strategy, but its effectiveness can’t be overstated. This method isn’t about nostalgia for an old technology; it’s about leveraging a direct line of communication that many have forgotten or are too hesitant to use out of fear.

Why Call?

Emails can be ignored, surveys can go unanswered, and feedback forms can be filled out half-heartedly. But a phone call? It’s immediate and personal, and it requires engagement. When you call, you convey to your customers that they’re important enough for you to spend your time talking to them directly. This act alone can set you apart from competitors.

The Unhappy Will Call Back

Ironically, unhappy customers are often the ones who are most likely to return your call if they miss it. While it might seem counterintuitive to invite potentially negative feedback, these conversations are invaluable. They provide honest insights into where your business might be faltering and offer you the chance to rectify issues before they escalate. However, the focus of these calls shouldn’t solely be on those who have grievances. You need to call everyone and let them know that’s your culture – to be customer-focused.

Talk to the Happy Ones, Too

Understanding why your satisfied customers are happy is just as crucial. Their feedback illuminates what your business is doing right and what should be continued or even expanded upon. These conversations can reveal the aspects of your service or product that genuinely resonate with your client base, guiding you on maintaining and enhancing customer satisfaction. Using this method, I started listening to my customers and understanding the personality types that were a better fit for my customers and company. It helped me develop how to put a team together and understand personality fit. It requires calling and listening to understand what you’re doing right – and keep doing it.

The Method

Yes, I’m advocating for something as simple as picking up the phone and making a call, but how you approach these calls matters. Be genuine in your inquiry about their satisfaction with your service or product. The first question I always ask is, “How are we doing?” – as simple as that. Ask open-ended questions that encourage detailed responses, and be prepared to listen. This isn’t about ticking a box but engaging in a meaningful dialogue and learning about what you’re doing right and what you can do better.


Implementing this strategy requires commitment. Set a goal for how many customers you aim to call within a certain timeframe and stick to it. Document these conversations for immediate insights and long-term tracking of customer satisfaction trends. This commitment to understanding your customer base will pay dividends in customer loyalty and business improvement.

I’ll share more advice on how to reach out to your customers in our upcoming Turnaround Playbook for Startups with 9 Months of Runway or Less.

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