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If you’re like most business owners, you probably assume your client relationships are pretty good. After all, you have enough clients to still be in business — which, in light of our recent economic spiral, is saying something. But it’s possible you’re merely surviving instead of thriving because you’re only scratching the surface of what it means to truly put the customer first. I suggest you conduct a “spring cleaning” to identify and purge the bad habits that are gumming up this crucial area of your business.
Bad Habit One: Letting apathy creep in. In the real world (and especially in a tough economy), you can’t always follow the popular graduation day advice and “do what you love.” Unfortunately, that reality often leads to apathy, disengagement and an “I just have to make it till five o’clock” mentality. If that describes you, it’s time for a wake-up call: You can’t coast through each workday and give 100 percent in service to your clients at the same time. That’s why, regardless of how you spend your work hours, it’s imperative that you choose to take pride in your work.
When you consciously decide to put forth your best efforts, you’ll experience greater rewards, you’ll get better at what you do, and apathy will disappear as you begin to genuinely care about doing the job right for your clients. You can learn to love what you do in that you feel pride in your work and strive to be better. Having any other attitude will only make you miserable and drive clients away.
SPRING CLEANING TACTIC: Make plans to do something this year that will help you get better at your job. Maybe it’s going to a seminar. Maybe it’s asking the client how you can serve him better. Maybe it’s shutting down your email so you can better concentrate on the task at hand. The better you get at what you do, the more rewarding it will be.
Bad Habit Two: Thinking that you know best. It’s true that you, not the customer, are the expert on your business. But does that mean that yours is the only opinion that matters? Of course not. No matter what industry you’re in, you need to turn your viewpoint around and make a sincere effort to see yourself and your business as your client does.
I once worked with a vendor who asked me to help him develop advertisements for his home-cleaning business. The problem was, he would consider only ads modeled after his favorite sports team’s branding. He didn’t care that not all potential customers were sports fans, or that they might root for a different team. And as a result, his business hasn’t grown much. Don’t make this man’s mistake. Don’t make your business all about you.
SPRING CLEANING TACTIC: Find an ex-customer and ask how he or she sees your business.Assure him or her that you just want the truth about how he or she perceives you and the truth about what that person as a customer really wanted from you. If you are willing to do this (and make no mistake, it’s hard), you’ll learn a lot about what needs to change.
Bad Habit Three: Doing it all yourself. When you truly care about the success of your business — and about the well-being of your clients — it can be hard to let go of any aspect of your work. The thought of allowing someone else to take over any area of responsibility is extremely worrisome; after all, what if they mess it up? What if, because of another person’s mistakes, you end up letting a client down or delivering subpar results? Out of those questions, as you’re probably aware, many micromanagers have been born. What ends up happening in both scenarios is that you become stretched too thin, feel overwhelmed and ironically become less effective.
SPRING CLEANING TACTIC: Delegate one responsibility to someone else. It’s okay to start with something small. The point is to pick something that another person can duplicate and get it offyour plate so that you can devote more of your time and energy to the things that no one else can do. Yes, sometimes you will be left holding the bag, and there’s nothing you can do about it. But more often, you’ll have opened yourself up to winning in a situation where reluctance might have caused you to fail.
Bad Habit Four: Being stingy with time and money. We’ve all heard the expression “The more you give, the more you get.” And we understand its meaning when it comes to things like love, smiles, and kindness. But how does it relate to business? Well, you can give your clients honesty, competence and care, and hope to get those things back. But if you give away your expertise, time, energy and money, won’t you just go broke?
Not necessarily. I remember being very apprehensive about donating a large sum of money to build a Habitat for Humanity house as a Christmas gift for our clients. I thought I’d never see that money again. But in the years since, I’ve learned that new clients chose us because they had learned of that donation. Now, you might not always give and get on such a large scale. But the principle works for all amounts of money, and it also works when you’re giving over-and-beyond service.
SPRING CLEANING TACTIC: Look for something to give away, and don’t be cheap about it.Whether you give free popcorn or a free hot dogs or a free pet grooming, you make the customers feel special. This will keep them coming back.
Yes, this list may seem overwhelming at first. But trust me, it isn’t. If you commit yourself to your clients’ best interests, your bad relationship habits will begin to dissipate on their own. And over time, your clients will begin to take care of you just as you have taken care of them. By this time next year, I hope you’ll report that this year’s “spring cleaning” was the longest-lasting, most effective and most beneficial you’ve ever done.