Invest in your customers. Now is when they need you most.

This is one of seven parts from a paper titled "Innovating Through a Recession" by Prof. Andrew Razeghi of Northwestern University.

Downturns provide the opportunity to strengthen relationships with customers thereby improving customer loyalty. At a time when consumer sentiment is nearly at an all-time low, rather than reduce customer service, use this time to get closer to your customers, connect with them on a deeper level, and show them what's possible – what the future will hold. Consider the furniture brand La-Z-Boy for example.

La-Z-Boy launched its iconic reclining chair in 1929 just months before the stock market crash but sales continued as customers bartered everything from wheat to coal to farm animals for their very own chair. Nothing stood between a man and his La-Z-Boy. The company's founders did everything they could to keep their customers seated in their products. Extend better terms. Service their accounts more quickly. Help them stay afloat. By the end of the Depression, not only had La-Z-Boy collected a wide-array of farm animals it had amassed unparalleled customer loyalty for its service and quality.

Likewise, in 2003, when the Dow was at historical lows over a 10-year period, Apple continued to invest. When asked why he hadn't reduced research and development spending when others in the industry had experienced a slow down, Steve Jobs recalls: "What has happened in technology over the last few years has been about the downturn, not the future of technology. A lot of companies have chosen to downsize, and maybe that was the right thing for them. We chose a different path. Our belief was that if we kept putting great products in front of [customers], they would continue to open their wallets. And that's what we've done. We've been turning out more new products than ever before, and Apple is one of the only two companies making money in the PC business. We're not making a lot, but other than Dell, we're the only one. Others are losing money – a lot of money."

Apple has a long history of remaining relevant during the most difficult of times. Of course, like most contemporary organizations, Apple also has a history of downsizing and restructuring, but it has also chosen to innovate through recession. Through innovation, Apple has not only kept its pipeline robust, but – more importantly – it has remained in front of its customers. Apple always has a story to tell. And it tells that story through new products. New products are not only required to remain relevant, they are signs of hope to employees and to customers that your company and your brand are valuable in their lives. During these times, remember that your customers are as worried as you are. Stay close to them. Help them get what they want and they'll remember you over the long haul: they will "continue to open their wallets".