The Importance of the Human in Customer Relationships: Interview with Bruno R. Cignacco, Author of The Art of Compassionate Business

Customer Relationships

Bruno R. Cignacco, author of The Art of Compassionate Business, elaborates on the transformative power of personalised, service-oriented business strategies to foster stronger, more meaningful customer relationships. 

In the second edition of your new book The Art of Compassionate Business, you emphasise the importance of adopting an attitude of service towards customers. Could you please elaborate on this topic? 

For most companies, customers are the most significant source of income; customers contribute directly to the company’s bottom line, which means profits. Therefore, developing strong, long-lasting relationships with customers is paramount. Many companies treat customers in a very instrumental way, which means they consider customers as a means to an end (profits). For this type of organisation, customers are only figures in a database that can contribute to the company’s economic results. These organisations are more prone to treating customers in an impersonal manner. They tend to adopt a selling attitude, by prompting their customers to buy as many products as possible, without considering their unique needs. These companies are often self-centred and mostly focused on their own objectives (for example, higher profits, bigger market share, etc.), instead of being customer-focused. 

Other companies, on the other hand, adopt a different attitude towards their customers. These organisations adopt an attitude of service. It is important to highlight that service does not mean servitude. A company with an attitude of service wishes the best for its customers and offers them products and services which address their specific needs adequately. This type of company offers customers products and services which can improve their lives to different extents. 

Customers are the most significant source of income; customers contribute directly to the company’s bottom line, which means profits. Therefore, developing strong, long-lasting relationships with customers is paramount.

Whenever possible, such companies aim to interact with customers in a personalised way, in order to discover their unique tastes, requirements, and preferences. By doing so, these organisations are more likely to offer their customers products and services which are suitable for them. These companies ask customers various relevant questions (for example, “What use will you give to this product?”, “What are your past experiences with similar products?”, etc.) in order to consider each customer’s unique needs. Companies with an attitude of service treat each customer as a valuable human being who has legitimate needs to be properly acknowledged and addressed. In addition, companies which adopt an attitude of service towards customers are more prone to acting as follows: 

  • They not only try to satisfy customer needs; they also aim to exceed their customers’ expectations. In simple words, whenever possible, these companies try to delight customers by giving them more than they expected. For example, they can positively surprise their customers by providing them with gifts (for example, free samples, free training, free delivery, etc.), which often prompts the customers to feel “indebted” towards the company. When an organisation adopts a generous attitude towards its customers, those customers are more likely to leave positive reviews of the company’s products, and also recommend the products to other customers. 
  • Companies with an attitude of service develop only win-win agreements with their customers. In this type of agreement, both parties (the company and the customer) win, which means that neither party takes advantage of the other. As research has shown, when customers feel they have been deceived by a company, they tend to avoid developing a relationship with this organisation; they also tend to discourage other potential customers from trying the company’s products. 
  • Companies with a serving attitude prompt their customers to experience positive emotional states before, during, and after the buying process. Customers who experience positive emotions in their various interactions with a company (for example, in person, emails, phone conversations, etc.) are more likely to associate these positive feelings with the organisation’s products and services, bringing about stronger bonds with the company. 
  • Companies with an attitude of service towards customers always act in a transparent manner. This type of company always provides customers with full information, so that they can make the best-possible purchasing decision. In addition, transparent companies are more prone to developing trust-based bonds with their customers. Some companies purposely hide relevant information in order to take advantage of their customers. Other organisations include unintelligible fine print in the terms and conditions of the contracts signed by customers. These companies’ lack of transparency often leaves customers unaware of potential risks and responsibilities related to their purchases. In simple words, whenever a company does not provide customers with transparent information, those customers are more likely to make buying decisions which are detrimental to them. 

What other examples do you give in your new book of actions that companies can take in order to develop stronger relationships with their customers? 

This is a very important topic. There are many other things a company can do. Companies should aim to develop more human-oriented conversations with their customers. These conversations should be natural, spontaneous, and aimed at adding more value for customers. Through such conversations, companies can discover each customer’s past experiences, fears, and expectations, as well as their innermost desires and tastes. In that sense, companies should avoid using scripted conversations, which are very common in some sales training courses. These scripted conversations often make interactions with customers less personal and more mechanical. Other tips for companies to strengthen their relationship with their customers are: 

Companies should avoid using scripted conversations, which are very common in some sales training courses.
  • Exceeding customer expectations: Most companies can fairly meet their customer needs. However, if a company wants to actually stand out, it should aim to add higher value for customers than other organisations do. According to research, this can be done in different ways; for instance, adopting an inquisitive attitude towards each customer’s unique needs, treating customers in a supportive and caring manner, showing excellent technical skills and knowledge regarding the company’s products, and solving customer problems effectively (for example, problems with the use of the products, etc.), among others. In other words, a company should always aim to “overperform” and exceed customer expectations. Customers should receive more than they were expecting from the company. Research has shown that when customers are delighted by an organisation, which means that their expectations are exceeded, these customers are more likely to purchase the company’s products again. 
  • Avoiding the use of pressurising or manipulative techniques: Customers can often feel it when a company tries to exert pressure on them. They can also notice when an organisation tries to take advantage of them. In these cases, customers feel that their autonomy or freedom of choice is compromised by the organisation. Some companies use various manipulative techniques (for example, making exaggerated claims about the products, falsely stating the scarcity of a product to entice customers, etc.). Whenever customers feel pressurised or manipulated, they are less likely to make the best purchasing decisions. These customers are also more prone to feeling regretful or resentful after buying a product or a service, which often has a negative impact on the bonds between the company and its customers. 
  • Reducing the perceived risks related to purchases: Customers often face various risks when buying products or services. For instance, one risk before buying the products is that customers are often unsure if these particular products would be adequate for them. There is a risk that the products will not meet their needs. In relation to this risk, a company can show the customer how a product can effectively meet their needs. For instance, the company could demonstrate the most relevant features and benefits of the product, offer free samples, or mention past referrals. In addition, the company could offer customers a refund or return policy, in case they regret their purchase. For some products (for example, electronics, medicines, etc.), customers also face potential safety risks regarding the use of the product. In this case, the company can provide customers with clear and detailed instructions on how to use the product safely. With all these actions, a company is providing customers with valuable support, by reducing the risks related to their purchase, which makes these customers less liable to regret buying the products. On the one hand, these customers are less likely to experience negative emotions regarding their purchases; on the other, such customers tend to develop more robust relationships with the company. 
  • Being grateful to customers: An organisation can show gratitude to its customers by sending them a personalised “thank you” letter, in order to show their appreciation of their custom. A company can also adopt a grateful attitude when customers do not buy its products. In this case, the company appreciates the time spent by customers analysing its offerings. In addition, companies should also be grateful to customers for their positive reviews, as these reviews are always relevant cues regarding customer satisfaction. Lastly, an organisation can also show gratitude to customers for their seemingly negative reviews, as these reviews can be considered as worthy and actionable feedback regarding things the company could improve (for example, product packaging, product design, delivery, etc.). 

Lastly, could you please provide other suggestions on developing more meaningful relationships with customers, based on your new book? 

People working for a company should regularly ask themselves relevant self-reflection questions. Some examples of these relevant questions are: 

  • How can we add more value for customers? 
  • How can we address customers’ distinctive needs in a more effective manner? 
  • How can we assist customers with their doubts and objections? 
  • How can we adopt an attitude of service towards customers? 
  • How can we improve customers’ experience and delight them? 
  • How can we communicate with customers in a more natural way? 
  • How can we offer customers high-value products and services? 
  • How can we be more thankful to customers? 

Executive Profile

Dr Bruno Roque Cignacco

Dr Bruno Roque Cignacco (PhD) is an international business consultant, TEDx speaker, and researcher. For over 30 years, he has advised and trained hundreds of companies on international trade activities and international marketing. He also trains companies on topics related to compassionate business and human-oriented leadership. He is a university professor and a senior fellow of the Higher Education Academy (HEA), in the UK. He is also the author of business and personal-development books published in various languages. The second edition of his new book The Art of Compassionate Business is available at His website is 


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