How to win back a customer through email


Christina Farley

It’s always better – and cheaper – to win back old customers than acquire new ones. Customers lapse, ghost, go inactive, go cold (choose your term!) for a variety of reasons, some of which are outside of your control:

  • They signed up for a one-time deal and aren’t interested otherwise
  • They have inbox overload
  • They had a bad experience with your brand
  • They went to a competitor (or no solution at all)
  • You send too many emails and they’ve tuned you out
  • Your subject lines are boring

…and honestly, sometimes they’re just plain not interested. 

The bad news: You can’t win ‘em all. You’re not a good fit for every customer and not every customer is a good fit for your brand.

The good news: List decline is a natural (and healthy) part of email marketing. Continuing to email inactive customers will hurt your deliverability – i.e. your ability to reach the customers who do want to hear from you. 

ENTER: The automated win-back email series. 

Think of this as a last-ditch effort to keep a customer alive before respectfully removing them from your list. A well crafted win back series addresses the potential reasons they went inactive (that list above) and aims to resuscitate all the customers who are still interested in your brand. 

When do you consider a customer cold? 

The short, one-size-fits-all answer: After 4-6 months of inactivity. 

The longer, more accurate answer: It depends on your business and buying cycle. What’s considered normal engagement for a B2B SaaS business with year-long contracts might be alarming to see from an e-commerce subscription user base.

Some signs a user is going cold:

  • They haven’t opened an email in 3 months 
  • They haven’t opened any of the last 8 emails 
  • They haven’t clicked an email CTA in 6 months 
  • They haven’t purchased as much as your average customer (dollar amount)
  • They aren’t purchasing as frequently as your average customer does

It helps to work backwards: Define your “average” customer in terms of email and purchase engagement and then identify the users that break the pattern. These are the users you need to draw back in (or kindly opt out for sake of deliverability) through your win-back series. 

Need help defining what a cold user means in your business? We’re here to help. Get in touch with the Scalero team → 

What should the series look like?

Remember: This is your last chance to win back customers before unsubscribing them. Don’t be afraid to be bold with your subject lines, give steep discounts and switch up your tone. After all, the worst-case scenario is they continue to ignore your emails, while the best-case is they become a customer again.

Here’s a 5-email win back series outline you can tweak to fit your business and audience, plus a real life example of a company who has done it before. 

  1. The “We’re still here!” email (Send 1 month after they go cold)
  2. An (actually) awesome incentive (2 weeks later)
  3. Ask for feedback (2 weeks later)
  4. The “Last chance!” email (1 month later)
  5. The unsubscribe notification (1 month later)

Pro tip: While a user is going through this series, suppress them from your normal email cadence (seasonal promotions, newsletters, nurture emails, etc.). Keep them focused on your attention grabbing win back series!

  1. The “We’re still here!” email 

Reintroduce yourself and remind your customers you still exist. Jog their memory as to why they came to you in the first place – bonus points if you can personalize the email to speak to the product they bought or a product they might like. This is a great time to address common objections or reasons why customers fall off.  

Try inserting some lighthearted humor (for example, a subject line like “Taylor, long time no see!”) and an easy, low-commitment call to action.

2. An (actually) awesome incentive 

This email only works if you offer your customers something they actually want. It might be easier to get approval for a 5% discount, but a 25% discount will actually get customers back in the door. Get creative with your offer – it doesn’t always have to be a dollar amount! Lead magnets like e-books, free shipping, free gift with purchase or a free expert consultation all work. Making offers “limited time only” also increases the urgency and likelihood your customers will respond. 

Quick psychological tip: Offering $10 in credit is more attractive than offering 10% off. We view the former as “free money” we’re losing out on if we don’t redeem it. 

3. Ask for feedback

A win back series is also an opportunity to get feedback on what you can improve and resolve complaints. You might be surprised by customers’ willingness to talk – and you might even make an impression and rescue that customer! 

Need help writing a killer customer feedback email? We’ve got you covered →

4. The “Last chance!” email

People are risk-averse and the fear of losing something might drive your cold customers to take action, whether that’s making a purchase or simply clicking a button to stay subscribed. This email is also a great opportunity to reiterate your offer (with time urgency!) and remind them what your company can help them achieve. 

Industry standard: Unsubscribe them 30 days after sending this email.

Need help writing a killer customer feedback email? We’ve got you covered →

The unsubscribe notification

One last check in to let them know they’ve been unsubscribed (and give them an easy way back in!).

What’s next?  

The success metric of a win back series isn’t getting the customer to purchase (although they might). Focus on getting customers to engage with your brand and respond to CTAs. Whether it’s through an offer, humorous nudge, or the fear of missing out and getting unsubscribed), the goal is to breathe life back into customers who were otherwise disinterested or unengaged. 

The win back series is also an opportunity to test out your more out-of-the-box email ideas on a low-stakes audience. If you’re apprehensive to test out bold subject lines, humorous copy or unconventional offers with your active users, this is your chance. You never know – you might learn something here that you can apply to your other email flows!

From there, it’s time to wrap these customers back into your normal email list, periodic blast campaigns or newsletters to make sure they stay engaged and active.

Need help envisioning your strategy for your new win back series and beyond? We’d love to help. 

Thanks to Really Good Emails for the examples.

Join our mailing list

Get your fix of marketing, design and automation tips, all written by industry experts. +1 510-394-2442San Francisco, CaliforniaMexico City, MexicoCopenhagen, Denmark