Get All Access for $5/mo

Want Customers to Love You? Treat Every Customer Like They're Your Only Customer "This approach isn't just audacious — it's a commitment to forming genuine relationships."

By Doug Zarkin

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Oscar Wong | Getty Images

As a builder of brands and, more importantly, a human being, an iconic scene from the movie Jerry Maguire resonates deeply with me. Jerry, portrayed by Tom Cruise, experiences an awakening that transcends the world of sports management. His realization goes beyond not treating athletes as commodities; it's about recognizing and celebrating their passion and soul. His rallying cry, "Fewer clients", is a wake-up call that authenticity and human connection matter.

However, this isn't just a Hollywood narrative — it's inspired an approach I've tried to use throughout my career when thinking about building brands and improving the platforms that ironically make them more formidable, supporting their topline and bottom-line growth. I call this "Thinking Human." It's about peeling back the layers and acknowledging that beneath job titles and transactions, there exist real people — individuals with their own stories, aspirations, and emotions that shape their interaction with your brand.

Let me pose this provocative question: What if the customer journey was crafted as though each customer engaging with your brand was your only customer? This approach isn't just audacious — it's a commitment to forming genuine relationships by making every customer feel like they're the only one that matters.

Elevating Every Customer to "Star" Status

Once again, here's the vision: What if your brand treated each customer like they were your only customer? This isn't merely about relying on algorithms to create a personalized experience, but crafting moments that resonate personally. Instead of reducing customers to data points, each interaction becomes an opportunity to etch an indelible memory. But this doesn't stop at customized experiences, it extends to understanding your customer's journey. From the initial hello to the final checkout, each touchpoint transforms into a canvas where an exceptional experience is painted.

As you navigate the world of building brands, you'll find that the business world is fixated on hitting revenue targets. Still, there's a certain magic in making each customer feel genuinely valued. It transcends transactions; it's about forming lasting connections. Consider those neighborhood stores you frequent or my story about Tony and the diner on Long Island — that's the essence we're striving to capture, albeit on a grander scale. This approach doesn't merely secure customers; it transforms them into ardent advocates eager to share their remarkable experiences. It helps to create Brand Love (which you want!) and ensure your brand isn't in the Friend Zone (which you definitely don't).

When Research and Reality Align: The Power of a Customer-Centric Approach

The notion of Thinking Human isn't merely a feel-good mantra or a lofty ideal — it's a well-researched strategy with quantifiable benefits. A study published in the Harvard Business Review unequivocally revealed that businesses emphasizing customer experience can see a revenue growth rate increase by as much as 16%. This isn't just statistical white noise; it's an evidence-backed affirmation of the transformative potential of prioritizing the human aspect in your customer interactions.

Sure this sounds great, but what does it really mean for a brand to treat each customer as if they were the only one? According to customer experience expert Shep Hyken, "Personalization and individualized service is more than a trend; it's an expectation." When customers feel that a brand not only values them but also understands their specific needs, it establishes a level of loyalty that transcends mere transactions. This isn't loyalty to a product or service but loyalty to an experience and a brand ethos. This emotional bond is what I'm trying to get across with the notion of "Thinking Human."

The data not only supports this approach but extols it. Customer Experience futurist Blake Morgan writes in her book, "The Customer of the Future," that "Customers today have more choices than ever, and they have shown they will unhesitatingly switch to a business that provides personalized, real-time customer experiences." The implication is clear: Thinking Human isn't just a nice-to-have, it's a must-have, providing a critical competitive edge in an increasingly saturated market.

This perspective on customer relations isn't a one-size-fits-all solution but rather a scalable strategy that adapts from startup to conglomerate. Take inspiration from Jerry Maguire's philosophy, "The key to this business is personal relationships." Whether you're steering a startup or part of a Fortune 100 brand, focusing on the human element should be at the core of your business model. This isn't merely about transactions or even customer satisfaction; it's about building a passionate community of brand advocates.

In the memorable words of Rod Tidwell from Jerry Maguire, "Show me the money!" Tidwell got more than just a heartfelt speech; he landed a lucrative $11.2-million contract and a sneaker deal with Reebok. Similarly, a Thinking Human approach in the business arena has the power to touch hearts and significantly impact the bottom line. This strategy goes beyond crafting a sustainable brand and building long-term customer relationships—it serves as a real-world playbook for turning authentic connections into measurable profits. Far from being just a soulful concept, Thinking Human truly embodies the essence of "showing you the money."

Bridging Tech and Human Touch Together at Pearle Vision

A practical question may arise: "How do we ensure each customer feels uniquely valued, especially in the face of high traffic numbers?" This is where technology becomes an ally. You can expand your reach through data analytics, AI, and personalized communication while upholding the human connection. Technology, in my opinion, needs to become a tool that elevates – not replaces – the personal bonds we establish.

A pivotal stride in the transformative journey during my time as CMO of Pearle Vision was weaving a profound commitment to the Thinking Human approach throughout the business and brand. From exam rooms to the retail floor, we reshaped Pearle Vision into a brand laser-focused on the individual behind the eyes. Our goal? To send customers out of their neighborhood Pearle Vision seeing clearly, but more importantly, makes them feel genuinely understood — a sentiment we coined as the "Neighborhood Eye Care Experience."

In the latter part of 2021, my team took on the task of evaluating and integrating a groundbreaking customer-facing digital innovation into our experience: the new digital fit system. Our operations and innovations team lent their expertise to guide us in this venture. This technology empowered our seasoned eye care professionals to capture previously unreachable eye measurements and intricate facial details with millimeter precision. This encompasses the exact pupil placement, eye spacing, face shape, and frame design. The outcome is as straightforward as it is profound: we produce lenses with unparalleled accuracy. This translates to an experience of crystal-clear vision, not just because of the lens, but because it's perfectly attuned to your unique facial features, frame shape and prescription.

We introduced this innovation through our "Digital Fit" marketing campaign, strategically aligning it with other ways technology enhances your well-being. Consider it a fitting irony: using technology to personalize your prescription glasses, much like you use tech to improve your sleep and fitness.

Putting this technology within the realm of our genuine human experience, we reinforced our brand's DNA, reflected our values, and set ourselves apart in the market. And guess what? Our customers loved every bit of it!

Real-Life Marvel: The Ritz-Carlton Approach

In the world of luxury hospitality, where opulence and exceptional service define the landscape, The Ritz-Carlton stands as a beacon of excellence. Yet, their distinction goes beyond extravagant accommodations and meticulous attention to detail. What sets The Ritz-Carlton apart is its pioneering approach to human empowerment, a philosophy that elevates every team member to unparalleled authority and responsibility. It's a principle that permeates every corner of their organization, from the executives in the boardroom to the diligent housekeepers who ensure the rooms are impeccable. This empowerment manifests tangibly and powerfully: every employee, including housekeepers, carries a discretionary customer satisfaction fund of $1,500.

This fund is not merely a financial allocation; it's a symbol of trust, a vehicle for transformation, and a testament to The Ritz-Carlton's unwavering commitment to unparalleled customer service. It signifies that each team member, regardless of their role or position, possesses the authority and the means to make things right when a guest's experience falls short of perfection.

Picture this: A guest encounters a minor hiccup during their stay – perhaps a small inconvenience or oversight that could mar their overall impression. In most settings, resolving such issues would require a chain of approvals and a bureaucratic process. However, at The Ritz-Carlton, the story unfolds differently.

When a team member, whether a housekeeper or a manager, detects a guest's challenge, they have the autonomy to dip into a discretionary fund of $1,500. This fund serves as a powerful tool, enabling swift and immediate resolution. Whether it's a thoughtful gesture, a surprise upgrade, or a personalized touch, the discretionary fund empowers team members to turn a potentially disappointing experience into a moment of delight and the swiftness of the response, a nod to the guest of the hotel as being a "human" not just the occupant of room 378 paying $500 a night.

This approach amplifies the essence of "Thinking Human." It's a poignant reminder that regardless of one's title or position, every team member is a custodian of guest experiences. It underscores the belief that every guest interaction is an opportunity to create lasting memories, to foster loyalty, and to showcase The Ritz-Carlton's unwavering commitment of excellence for you - the person who has trusted the brand. This empowerment-driven culture has a profound ripple effect. It cultivates a sense of ownership among team members, fostering an environment where they are not just employees but partners in pursuing excellence. It ignites a passion for exceeding expectations, embracing challenges, and turning obstacles into opportunities.

The Ritz-Carlton's empowerment philosophy encapsulates the essence of "Thinking Human." It exemplifies how a business can transform by imbuing its culture with trust, autonomy, and an unwavering commitment to making things right. It underscores that in pursuing exceptional customer experiences, every team member – from the general manager to the housekeeper – plays a pivotal role. It's a remarkable testament to the idea of empowerment, a force that enhances service and transforms the fabric of an organization's identity.

Crystalizing the Principles Shaping "Thinking Human"

As you work to implement Thinking Human into your own work, here's an easily digestible summary of its core principles:

  • Authenticity: At the heart of the Thinking Human approach is the recognition of the authentic, singular human being behind every transaction. It is vital to acknowledge that each customer has unique narratives and aspirations. This insight forms the basis of a profound and genuine connection, where every customer feels seen and valued as if they were your only client, fostering a rapport that transcends mere business interactions.
  • Individualized Experiences: Embarking on the Thinking Human path means crafting experiences that are not just personalized but deeply individualized. Every touchpoint should be seen as an opportunity to prepare a lasting memory, akin to creating a piece of art where every stroke is made with the individual in mind. It's about turning each interaction into a symphony where every note is tuned to resonate with the one who is listening.
  • Customer-Centric Philosophy: Adopting a Thinking Human stance transcends the traditional focus on revenue numbers. It acknowledges the profound intrinsic value that each customer brings to the table. It's about making every single customer feel their weight in gold, building enduring relationships that turn them into enthusiastic brand advocates, always ready to share their positive, personally tailored experiences.
  • Technology That Amplifies the Human Touch: Harnessing technology under the Thinking Human strategy is all about enhancing that personal touch, not replacing it. It encompasses utilizing data analytics, AI, and personalized communication tools to accentuate the human connection, ensuring that every customer feels like they are your one and only focus, amplifying the brand's promise without losing the essence of intimacy.
  • Empowerment Across the Board: Inspired by the empowerment philosophy embraced at The Ritz-Carlton, the Thinking Human approach defies traditional business hierarchies. It encourages every team member, from the executives to the housekeepers, to personally invest in enhancing guest experiences. This philosophy nurtures a spirit of unity and partnership among team members, inspiring a zeal to exceed expectations, turning hurdles into opportunities for excellence, all while treating each customer as if they were the sole recipient of your service.
  • Cultivating Brand Identity: Cultivating brand identity goes beyond simply enhancing the service quality; it shapes the very essence of an organization. It is about evolving an organizational culture that thrives on trust and unwavering dedication, transforming the Thinking Human philosophy into a tangible reflection of the brand's values, creating a living, breathing entity that makes every customer feel like they are at the heart of its existence.

Thinking Human is not just a catchphrase; it's a guiding philosophy transforming how brands interact with their customers. Just as Jerry Maguire's awakening reshaped his approach to sports management, this philosophy redefines how businesses approach branding and customer relationships in an ever-evolving landscape.

Want more? This essay was excerpted from Doug Zarkin's new book, Moving Your Brand Out Of The Friend Zone.

Doug Zarkin is Chief Brand Officer of Good Feet Holdings, LLC, a global holdings group of premium wellness brands, including The Good Feet Store and ING Source. He is also author of the book Moving Your Brand Out of the Friend Zone.

Zarkin was previously CMO of Pearle Vision. With two decades at the marketing helm, Doug has also helped grow iconic brands like Avon and Victoria’s Secret PIN. He is a consecutive honoree in Crain’s NY Notables in Marketing, and has been the subject of a Harvard Business School case study on brand revitalization.

Want to be an Entrepreneur Leadership Network contributor? Apply now to join.

Editor's Pick

Business Solutions

Increase Productivity with This Microsoft 365 Subscription, Now $25 Off

It can make the entrepreneur life a lot easier.

Business News

Apple Pay Later Is Ending. Here's What's Taking Its Place.

The program was available for less than a year.

Leadership

This Artist Answered a Businessman's 'Powerful' Question — Then His Work Became 'the Poster Child for Juneteenth': 'Your Network Really Becomes Your Net Worth'

Reginald Adams was the executive director of a Houston-based art museum for more than a decade before he decided to launch his own public art and design firm.

Leadership

Harvard Business School Professor Says 65% of Startups Fail for One Reason. Here's How to Avoid It.

Team alignment isn't nice to have -- it's critical for running a successful business.

Business News

Here's What Companies Are Open and Closed on Juneteenth 2024

Since it became a holiday in 2021, Juneteenth has been recognized by some major corporations as a paid day off.

Growing a Business

I Hit $100 Million in Annual Revenue by Being More Transparent — Here Are the 3 Strategies That Helped Me Succeed

Three road-tested ways to be more transparent and build relationships that can transform your business — without leaving you feeling nightmarishly over-exposed.