When you're growing a small business, you can't afford to disappoint customers or even offer them a good-enough experience. You have to "wow" them every time, which means giving them the first fruits of your time, energy, creativity and focus.
When you succeed in putting your clients first, you will find that everything else — growth, a positive reputation and financial security —all fall into place.
Living and working this way is not easy. Putting your customers' interests ahead of your own — every time — will seem counterintuitive, risky and sometimes even frightening, especially at first. Eventually, though, keeping your commitment to "Clients First" will start to feel natural. And by that point, the benefits, rewards, satisfaction and success will be rolling in — and you'll be proud of the person and professional you've become.
The following are 12 tips that might not be obvious, but will help you to put clients first so your business can grow and prosper.
If you go into work thinking, "How do I make money?" you're already off on the wrong foot. What you need to be thinking is, "How do I serve others?" Taking your focus away from the bottom line may feel uncomfortable at first. Yet, ironically, it changes everything for the better.
Consciously putting your own best interests in second place goes against the grain of human nature, but you will find that when you focus on how best to serve clients, tough decisions make themselves.
If it serves the client, you do it. If it doesn't, you don't. This neutralizes moral dilemmas and really simplifies your life. And it almost always has a miracle effect on your growth and success.
Never let the words "it's just business" cross your mind (and certainly not your lips). This old standby phrase is simply not true, especially to a client who feels as though he has been belittled, treated coldly, pushed away or used. Remember, to truly serve, you have to care. When you keep yourself at arm's length, you can't give your clients 100 percent — instead, you give them an incentive to take their business elsewhere.
Do you see your clients as sources of income, or do you see them as actual human beings with likes, preferences, quirks, and stories? People want to do business with individuals they like — and they like people who like them.
Make a deeper connection with your clients by asking about their kids, their pets, their hobbies, and their jobs or businesses. You'll find that most of them are just like you: filled with worries, hopes, and dreams. Once you get familiar with and invested in these things, you'll work that much harder on each client's behalf, and you'll earn their loyalty in the process.
Especially when you're trying to get a small business off the ground, it's easy to get caught up in pursuing the "big" goals: growing your company, expanding your client base, hiring more employees and making a profit, for example. But don't become so fixated on the forest that you fail to see the trees. In other words, stop being so distracted by the "big grand ideas" and start getting the small details right. Promises kept, deadlines met, little extra flourishes, and small acts of kindness add up to happy clients.
We've all heard the expression "The more you give, the more you get." And you may be willing to put it into practice when it comes to giving your clients things like honesty, competence and care. But if you give away your expertise, time, energy and (gasp!) money, won't you just go broke? Not necessarily. It may take time, but whatever you give will usually come back to you with interest.
Even if it makes you look better, makes you rich or keeps a client from walking — don't lie. Sometimes, it's tempting to tell white lies, exaggerate, misdirect, omit and cut corners to make life easier. Generally, it's also easy to justify these things to yourself (She'll never know, and it'll save me hours of work, for example). But when it comes to putting clients first, these "little" lies are just as bad as the whoppers. Yes, honesty can be tough in the moment, but in the long run you'll gain a reputation for trustworthiness that will change your life.
When you cultivate a reputation for rock-solid honesty — for laying out all your cards even when it doesn't benefit you, for telling the whole truth, for never holding back or sugarcoating — you'll gain customer loyalty that money can't buy. Clients will trust, respect, and refer you, and your own life will become easier. When you have only the truth, you wave goodbye to moral dilemmas and sleepless nights.
Honesty shouldn't stop with your clients. Ask yourself, "Am I lying to myself about where my priorities lie and how others perceive me?" Try to see your business as your clients and customers see you. Are you putting them first — or putting yourself first?
Small businesses start off with the best intentions and with a clear picture of what the customer wants. But soon, most of them drift off the path. Little by little, they start making it all about them and their growth, and poof! No more 'Clients First' … and no more of the benefits living by this philosophy brings.
While (of course) you don't treat your employees like dirt, you may feel that you don't owe them any special favors, either. After all, you're paying them — isn't that enough? Well, no. Whether you realize it or not, the way your people treat customers reflects the way you treat them. Are you courteous? Kind? Polite? Enthusiastic? Do you listen when they talk to you and try to accommodate their needs? Or are you short, perfunctory, and even (sometimes) rude?
Your job is to serve others, period. You can't do that by making distinctions between the people who work for you and the people to whom you provide a good or service. Realize that you set the tone for your company's personality, and that you're creating a tribe of people who will beat the drum for your message.
Yes, you read that correctly. You can — and should — strive to win the approval, goodwill and admiration of your competitors. If possible, get to know their leaders and employees, and help them when you can. You don't have to give away trade secrets, but you can offer advice, for example, or refer a customer whose needs are better matched to what another business has to offer.
Don't do these things manipulatively, but in the spirit of giving — your efforts will come back to you with interest. Have faith that there is enough business to go around.
It's true: All work and no play make Jack a dull boy. However, injecting a little lightheartedness and creativity into your business gives your customers something to look forward to and provides them with a memorable reason to stay engaged and loyal.
Every Christmas we send personalized ornaments to our clients and other business associates. We put a lot of effort (and money!) into this yearly treat and people love it. It sets us apart, and our investments always come back to us with interest!
If you aren't driven to be "number one" with your clients, you might as well close your doors.
Many business owners will admit that they just want "to do a good job" or "make a living." This isn't good enough. Especially if your business is smaller and less established, being the customer's second choice (or third or fourth or fifth) means you're on the road to eventual failure.
When times get tough — or when a new flavor-of-the-month company shows up — customers will have no qualms about abandoning a company they don't love above all others. Talk about a compelling reason to never accept mediocrity.
Don't make the mistake of thinking that being number one is about competing with other businesses. If your focus is on competing, then it isn't on the customer. Instead, think of yourself as being in a contest to fulfill each client's dreams … and you'll automatically be competitive with other companies.
When a client is needy, moody, picky, overly emotional, combative or something else, it's tempting to write him or her off. And if you can't wave goodbye in reality, you do it mentally and merely go through the motions of serving the client. That's a mistake. If you aren't meeting a client's needs, it's their job to fire you, not the other way around.
Clients First means all clients. When you make the choice to stand by all of your frazzled, frustrated customers, you will eventually reap financial and personal rewards. You may become known in your company or industry as the guy or gal who can handle the toughest customers. And chances are, your clients themselves will be grateful that you didn't give up on them and may even send others your way.
A Clients First attitude can benefit you and your small business in numerous ways. The opposite attitude can have just as tremendous of an impact — a negative one. Never, ever underestimate the damage that putting your clients last (taking them for granted, not listening to their concerns, patronizing them, putting your own interests first, etc.) can do, and how far it can spread.
Even if putting clients first — no matter what — seems counterintuitive at first, give this way of doing business — and living life — a chance. If you take care of your customers, they will take care of you.
Joseph and JoAnn Callaway are coauthors of the New York Times best seller "Clients First: The Two Word Miracle" and founders of the real estate company Those Callaways. For additional information, visit www.clientsfirstbook.com.
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