“Respect is how to treat everyone.” —Richard Branson

“Men are respectable only as they respect.” —Ralph Waldo Emerson

Of course, you respect your customers. That’s a hallmark of business success.

I’d like to suggest an additional way to think about respect in building relationships with your customers.

Giving respect requires having respect for oneself. And respecting oneself requires a larger respect for the world and your place in it. If these weren’t true, this would be deference or arrogance, not respect. Respect reflects a mutual peer relationship.

And sometimes that mutuality gets left behind in trying to get customers to buy our products/services. Just to be clear, that mutual respect is not left behind in the creation of the product or services because we’re working hard to understand what will make a difference for our customers – what will improve their lives, solve a problem, contribute to their happiness. But occasionally we get impatient for a sales increase, we want more revenue, or we just don’t like that our prospects aren’t buying from us at the rate we want.

Here’s the catch with respect, customers, and our business:

  1. Respect is in short supply in the world of customers and businesses. A lot of spammy marketing has created adversarial relationships between customers and businesses. Customers’ expectations are lower, and yet they’re still frequently disappointed that yet another business that felt good turns around and spams them.
  2. When customers feel respected, they respect the business more. This reflects that mutuality aspect of respect. The more respect a customer experiences, the more they remember the business and feel good about spending their money there.
  3. Respect comes from a fundamental human need to be seen, acknowledged, heard. As a business, that means asking about preferences and then acting on those: what are they interested in? What do they want to know more about?
  4. Respect takes time and action to create and not much to destroy – kind of like trust. But you’ll always get another chance, so keep at it.

Let me share a quick story about my respect for a business I used to spend a lot of money and time with: Nordstrom. When I was working in the corporate world with customers, analysts, and executives, I needed all my work clothes to be tailored, professional, and high quality. Nordstrom was pretty reliable with all that. About 95% of all my purchases over the years were women’s high-quality suits and professional clothing.

One day, I spent several hours with my son getting him outfitted with some high-quality men’s suits, shirts, ties, belt, and shoes. A starter, working-world wardrobe. He was, and still is, a good investment.

Ever since that day, the only emails I get from Nordstrom are about men’s clothing. That’s it. Nothing else. In spite of the couple decades of buying women’s clothing, the fact that I spent one day buying menswear somehow displaced my entire history with them.

I now don’t shop there and have unsubscribed. I gave them time to fix this – I even let them know what I wanted to hear about. No response.

Nordstrom broke all the rules of respect for their customer in my experience. And I really wanted them to turn around, but that didn’t happen.

Nordstrom not only lost my respect, they cheapened their own business by following some spammy marketing advice and using data about purchases to try to get me to buy again. They didn’t show respect for their own history of data about me – all my previous purchases and orders are sitting in their history. They didn’t respect their ongoing hallmark service of respect for customers’ time, attention, and needs. Instead, they succumbed to shiny object syndrome: the latest high-tech marketing gimmick designed to extract more money from recent purchasing.

Instead, I recommend thinking about the arc of the relationship you have with customers. Tracking milestone data about each one and using that to expand your mutual respect. Use historical data with trend information if you want – not something that’s a one-shot behavior.

You may not have all the resources Nordstrom has to pour into fancy marketing, and probably that’s a good thing since you can spend yours more wisely.

Tracking some basic patterns is not difficult – it can be done by most entry-level marketing automation by tagging – at pretty low pricing per month. You don’t need fancy big data tech to demonstrate your respect for your customers. You need intention, strategy, and execution.

We’re happy to help you think about how to do that.

“Respect comes in two unchangeable steps: giving it and receiving it.” —Edmond Mbiaka