How to Retain Customers When Things Go Sideways


When times get tough, companies that show up for their customers quickly become the new favorites.


We’ve all heard of businesses showing their true stripes for better – and for worse.



With customer experience on blast, it’s time to get back to basics and put clients first. After all, buyers hold the keys to the kingdom. 


This means addressing the evolving needs of your buyers to create win-win solutions that help them:

  1. Get better
  2. Solve problems
  3. Achieve goals


The foundation of every solution must be thoughtfully communicated with clear expectations set.


These are defining moments.


What you do, but more importantly – how you do it – will be remembered and shape the road ahead. After all, it’s easier to grow and retain an existing customer than acquire a new one.




Here are three ways to emphasize customer experience to better gain and retain customers when things go sideways.

1. Understand Your Clients’ Evolving Needs


People today are scared, uncertain, and price-sensitive like never before. 


They’ve seen their businesses dragged through the muck and they need a partner to help – not just a vendor to just sell them something.


Before you can create a solution, you need to understand what your buyer is going through and what’s important to them. 


The best companies are spending quality time with clients, listening deeply, then going back to the drawing board to find a way to make it all work. 


They seek to understand versus assume. Those who fail to do so run the risk of alienating their buyers with a whole lot of doors getting slammed in the process.


Don’t treat your customers like boxes you need to check off. There’s a big difference between listening to understand and listening to answer. If you’re just listening to sell, you won’t learn anything and will be slinging products or services hoping something will stick. People will notice… and not in a good way. 


The best salespeople use active listening to create a low-pressure environment that makes the sales call a more collaborative and human experience.


Taking care of your customers can look like:

  • Creative pricing terms (just be careful you don’t hurt your business in the process)
  • Reduced implementation fees
  • Increased payment term thresholds
  • Incentives for longer agreements


Pay special attention to onboarding, negotiations, rediscovery, and offboarding as you take care of your buyers. The more you take care of them, the more they’ll take care of you.


Now’s the time to shine!  Show your marketplace what you’re really made of and this will set the stage for what comes next. 


2. Relate to Clients on Their Terms


It’s critical that your outreach demonstrates to clients that you understand their predicament.


Messaging that comes off as disingenuous, oblivious, or self-serving could lose you a customer.


This is a perfect email I received from a business development coach looking for a sale in all the wrong ways.



Yikes! This email reads like a boring autobiography. Everything is “I” and “me.” Zero dots have connected to what’s important to me – ahem, the customer – during a pandemic to boot. The cherry on top? He doesn’t even offer a compelling reason to check out his site. That’s going to be a hard ‘no’ for me.


During times of disruption and pain, your customer outreach must address the plight of the buyer. It should also showcase your willingness to help people get back on solid ground.


That said, here’s a warm and compassionate email from a vendor that offered me thoughtful options and earned my immediate loyalty.




This email offers hope and reassurance without the fake empathy of the prior email. The vendor heard me, responded, gave me options with specifics, and followed through on their word right away. Also mentioned is how the discount will be applied in the future, which made it easy for me to plan ahead.


Fast forward a month later and I made a referral resulting in a new customer. See what I mean?


If your approach and communication meet buyers where they are, when they need it the most, the money will follow… you just may not see it immediately.

3. Set Expectations and Communicate Clearly


One of my favorite mantras that has yet to let me down is: “set the stage early and often for expectations.”


You reap what you sow and this requires equal parts:


  • Thoughtfulness
  • Intentionality
  • Creativity
  • Communication


If you’re deviating from your normal way of doing things, it’s important to proactively set expectations together. Create a safe space to have an open conversation and communicate about how best to rework your partnership.


For example, it can feel scary to offer a price reduction. Will your customers ever want to pay the full price again? Or will my service forever live on the discount shelf?


Trust in the basics. 


The psychological rule of reciprocity is very real. It states that people feel obligated to repay those who’ve done them a good turn. People won’t forget the goodwill you extend to them as they struggle. 




That said, be sure to revisit your expectations at agreed-upon milestones. 


This is not the time to tell people they ‘must pay, period.’ Effective communications and negotiations are key to avoiding assumption, misunderstanding, or fallout.


The choice is yours, choose wisely.

Getting Back to Basics


I recently saw an article that stated, ‘Customer Retention Is The New Growth” and cringed.  It’s always been, is, and always will be how you grow and sustain a business for the long haul.


The buyer journey and their experience are vital. How you treat people during the hardest of times will be remembered well after the dust has settled and determines your road ahead.


The insights you need to inform your win-wins can only be gathered from meaningful conversations with customers. 


When in doubt, remember the Golden Rule is your friend.


Be sure to engage people in a way that helps them feel cared for and understood, but also sets expectations for your relationship going forward.