Autopsy Your Old Customers

Remember the television show Quincy? Jack Klugman played a Los Angeles medical examiner, and in every episode, his autopsy would reveal that the decedent (who’d seemingly died of “natural” causes) was a victim of foul play. Using the clues he’d gained from his examinations, Quincy would convince the police a homicide had occurred, and then manage to singlehandedly finger the killer. In a pre-CSI world, it was pretty compelling stuff.

So why all this talk about an obscure 70’s crime-drama? Because if you’re really interested in identifying the work you love to do and learning how to serve your customers better, you may want to spend some time each week playing Quincy. Instead of investigating foul play, however, you should closely examine those things you’ve given up for dead in your business:  your closed customer files.

Here’s how to perform an Ex-Customer Autopsy:

1.  Grab at least five old files that have been closed for at least a year. Though you can choose files randomly, it works better if you’ve take some you liked and others you’d rather never touch again.

2.  For each file, answer the following questions, and be brutally honest with yourself:

About the engagement:

  • In hindsight, should I have done this work?
  • Were there any “red flags” I should have noticed?
  • What lessons did I learn from this engagement?

About the work:

  • Did I like the work?
  • Was I good at it?  How could I have been better?
  • If I didn’t like the work, how could I do less of it?

About the customer:

  • Does this customer have any other work I could be doing?
  • How would they describe me to their peers?
  • How could I have served them better?

About the money:

  • Was this a profitable matter for me to handle?
  • Did the customer feel my charges or prices were fair?
  • How could I have priced this differently?

3.  Every week, grab a few more files and repeat the exercise.  If you have staff, ask for their input as well.

4.  If you’re seeing common themes (either positive or negative), make sure to note them as well.

5.  Once you’ve performed 20-50 “autopsies,” you’ll have a better sense of the kinds of work you like to do, customers you enjoy serving and alternative ways to price your services.  Perhaps most importantly, you’ll understand the kinds of work you don’t want to do and learn to avoid taking business and customers better passed on to your competition.

BusinessMatthew Homann