It's possible to make money while also respecting your customers, treating them well, and putting them first. In fact, a new study shows that companies that put customers' needs ahead of their immediate business and marketing goals actually generate higher customer satisfaction.

"Customers are 269% more likely to be satisfied when they view a company's marketing as putting their needs ahead of its business goals," according to a MarketingSherpa survey of 2,400 U.S. consumers. That's partly why a company like Alphabet (NASDAQ: GOOG) (NASDAQ: GOOGL) can thrive with its "You can make money without doing evil" philosophy, and why a market leader like Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) has liberal return policies while lavishing perks on its Prime members.

It's not that these companies aren't interested in making a profit -- both Alphabet (Google) and Amazon generally make large amounts of money each year -- it's just that they understand that happy customers are more valuable in the long term.

Alphabet's Google has long had a policy of putting customers first. Image source: Google.

What does the study say?

Nearly 60% of customers who consider themselves highly satisfied believe that the marketing of a company they were satisfied with "often or always" puts their needs ahead of its own business goals, MarketingSherpa reported. Only 16.1% of highly unsatisfied customers believe that to be true.

That, as you might imagine, leads to better sales for the companies satisfying their customers. The report also showed that nearly 92% of satisfied consumers say they are "likely or very likely" to keep buying from brands that treat them well versus 29.4% for people who are unsatisfied.

"In this era of data-driven marketing and intense customer targeting, the survey results clearly indicate that brands should think beyond just aiming at their customer, and instead use that data to elevate the customer," said MarketingSherpa's Daniel Burstein in a press release.. "If the customer is the king or queen, shouldn't they come first?"

It's not as obvious as it seems

While some companies put customers first because they are run by people who value others over profit, in many cases that's not what's happening. Companies like Alphabet and Amazon may have CEOs who genuinely like and respect their fellow humans, but they also understand that it's easier to maintain the customer relationship when you treat people well.

"By using marketing to serve customers and prioritizing customer needs before short-term business and marketing objectives, companies will gain a long-term competitive advantage and sustainable business success as indicated by the increases in purchase intent and loyalty we measured in the study," Burstein said.

That's a lesson that cable and internet companies have been learning as their monopolies have eroded. When a consumer no longer has to deal with Charter Communication or AT&T because other choices now exist, in many cases they leave. That has sent companies in industries known for bad customers service -- cable, internet, and wireless are good examples -- scrambling to change their relationships with customers.

Doing that takes time and effort. It can work -- Comcast has invested heavily in fixing its customer service and it has posted cable gains at a time when the rest of its industry has lost customers. T-Mobile (NASDAQ:TMUS) is another example of a company that has not only changed how consumers perceive it; it has made putting customers first a key part of its marketing plan. That company, which has dubbed itself "The Un-carrier" to contrast with its rivals, has added over 1 million customers for 14 straight quarters -- growth that well outpaces the other three big carriers.

Putting customers first matters 

MarketingSherpa found that 56% of respondents said that customer-first marketing was either important or very important to them. In addition, companies that rate well might get a little more leeway when they do make mistakes. About half (51%) of highly satisfied customers were "very likely to give the company a chance to correct its mistake by contacting customer service to find a resolution while only 18% of highly unsatisfied customers said the same," according to the report.

Treating people well has become more important, especially as technology and the internet have opened up new choices. Burstein noted that putting consumers first is not easy, but that a large opportunity exists.

"It requires marketers to view decisions though a holistic, long-term lens while immediate, short-term challenges are screaming for their attention every day," he said. "However, according to their customers, it is not impossible... There is still a large opportunity; just 23% of respondents said the marketing of many or almost all companies is customer-first."

Treat people well and put their needs first and they will become long-term customers. That sounds like a lesson businesses should not need to learn, but it's actually one that has proven hard to put into practice.