How to Earn the Respect of Your Customers in Three Steps


n Marketing it can be easy to think of people as homogenous groups sharing similar characteristics, experiencing similar problems and needs. We group them together in hopes of seeing trends and patterns for how to best attract and retain customers, inching ever-closer to our goals and KPIs. However, this exercise is devoid of one key element — a deep understanding of what a customer needs to feel respected.

Oftentimes, brands only consider one side of this relationship — how well respected they are in the eyes of their customers, but respect is reciprocal; to be respected in the market, brands must extend the same (if not more) respect back to their customers. This deep level of care for the customers at the end of a transaction takes practice! Brands must listen and seek to understand the internal and external factors that impact a customer’s life so they can create a relationship founded in mutual respect and dignity.

Dove’s Real Beauty campaign is an excellent case study in how a brand can lose sight of the ingredients of a respectful relationship. Since its 2004 inception, the campaign’s aim has been to advance beauty equity through the use of a more diverse cohort of “real women” featured in their ads, thought leadership, and educational initiatives meant to promote equality.

A group of graduate students from Boston University’s College of Communication analyzed the campaign as part of a case study competition and found that in the early years of the campaign, customers raised issues and asked questions about the representation of diversity, but were ultimately dismissed by the brand. This caused great backlash from 2011- 2017, where a number of issues arose.

In 2019, Dove started to listen and consider the feelings of their audience and what they needed to feel respected and connected with the beauty equity movement. Launching project #showus in partnership with Girlgaze and Getty Images, Dove set out to deepen their relationship with customers by building the world’s largest library of stock photos catering to and built by female-identifying and non-binary persons. This library of over 5000 images allows the creators of the content to tag their photos in whatever way suits them, making it more accessible to represent oneself in a way that is unique to them.

Hoping to redefine how women are represented and set a new standard for authentic and diverse representation of women, Dove actively listened to what their audience was saying about their experiences, took action in a respectful way, and in-turn remain to be a well-respected brand in the market.,

Let’s explore three key principles for fostering a reciprocal relationship of respect with your customers.

customer respect

Use your status

Respect matters because it’s the key to one of the fundamental motives in social life: a desire for status. When people attain high-status, they feel like worthy and competent members of society. Status is often conveyed through the actions of authority figures since it’s presumed that their opinions reflect the views of their community at large.

When an authority figure treats someone with respect, it signals that they are deserving of high status. Considering that 70% of consumers feel more connected to brands when their CEO is active on social media, this presents an opportunity for high-ranking members to interact with their customers and use their high-status and position of authority to their advantage.

customer respect

Invite your customers to your inner circle

The second fundamental motive in social life is a desire to belong. When a person is shown respect, it signals that they are welcome and accepted members of their social group. In turn, when people feel like they belong, they are more likely to contribute to the group’s welfare. Brands can show respect for their customers by making them feel like a member of the community. For example, brands can promote user-generated content created by their customers to make them feel like honorary brand ambassadors.

customer respect

Give customers the tools they need to succeed

People feel respected when they feel a sense of agency. That is, when they are able to act independently and succeed on their own. This is called Effectance Motivation. When a customer needs help, customer service may solve their issue, but it may leave them feeling incompetent and unfulfilled. Instead, brands should empower customers to solve their own problems by providing them with the tools they need to do it (e.g., through self-service). When done in an accessible way, self-service experiences can offer a greater sense of personal achievement and satisfaction for the user and increase retention over time.