Working smart to win back lost customers the role of coping choices and justice mechanisms

Annie H. Liu (Department of Marketing, Texas State University, San Marcos, Texas, USA)
Richa Chugh (School of Marketing and International Business, Victoria University of Wellington, Wellington, New Zealand)
Albert Noel Gould (Department of Management, University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire, Eau Claire, Wisconsin, USA)

European Journal of Marketing

ISSN: 0309-0566

Publication date: 11 April 2016



The purpose of this paper is to examine how the cognitive appraisals, coping choices and behavioral responses by business-to-business (B2B) sales professionals confronting the acutely stressful experience of losing a customer, and their pursuit of justice in the win-back process, influences reacquisition outcomes. The paper further examines the role of sales experience as a moderator between coping choices and successful win back.


In all, 98 critical incidents were reported by sales professionals from B2B firms across various industries. NVivo 9, content analysis and logistic regression were used to analyze the data.


The results show that problem-focused coping (PFC) and pro-active responses positively affect win-back outcome. By contrast, emotion-focused coping (EFC) and re-active responses have a negative association with customer reacquisition. The findings also show that sales experience moderates the relationship between levels of EFC and win-back outcomes. Specifically, for sales professionals with low levels of EFC, sales experience helps improve chances of winning back lost customers. But for sales professionals using higher levels of EFC, more sales experience decreases win-back probability. Additionally, the findings show that procedural, interactional and distributive justice all contribute to successful customer reacquisition.

Research limitations/implications

The few published studies of how B2B sales professionals deal with customer defections reveal a mixture of bereavement and drivenness in striving for new accounts. The authors’ focus and findings on the use of PFC and EFC strategies, justice mechanisms and the uneven role of experience in responding to this stressful context suggests that there is much to be gained from additional research. Specifically, probes into how sales professionals may be inadvertently skewed to EFC behaviors by either overly simplistic training systems, learning- versus performance-based incentives or their experience with prior customer defections.

Practical implications

The findings highlight the importance of PFC strategies and the delivery of procedural, interactional and distributive justice strategies to productively adapt to customer defections, activate switch back behavior and win back lost customers. Sales force training systems need to address the increased churning in B2B markets and integrate win-back procedures in sales training programs so that sales professionals do not default to EFC and/or strive for new accounts when facing the stress of customer defection.


The findings contribute to customer defection management and sales literature by integrating coping and justice theories in exploring sales professionals’ cognitive appraisals and coping responses to the acute stress of losing a current customer.



All authors contributed equally. The authors wish to thank the Associate Editor and two anonymous reviewers for their helpful suggestions.


Liu, A.H., Chugh, R. and Noel Gould, A. (2016), "Working smart to win back lost customers the role of coping choices and justice mechanisms", European Journal of Marketing, Vol. 50 No. 3/4, pp. 397-420.

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