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Most business owners are so concerned with paying the bills that we instinctively put ourselves first. It’s a behavior fueled by fear. But when you really put the customer first, and put your own needs second, a whole lot of other things naturally fall into place. Decisions will become easier, your business will flourish, and your relationships will be based on true transparency.
Here, I share bad habits (some fairly obvious, others much less so) that might be keeping you from putting clients first.
Having a healthy ego can be a blessing and a curse. Yes, you need a strong sense of self in order to avoid being taken advantage of and marginalized by competitors and by clients. But when you start to believe that winning, recognition, and accolades are “the point” of what you do, you’ve veered off onto a destructive path. You become less likely to put the client’s best interests first if they interfere with reaching your own goals or with how others might see you. And while you may believe it’ll never happen to you, this is also the path that leads to moral ambiguity, cheating, and trampling others in the name of success.
Plus, no client likes working with someone who has a patronizing attitude or constantly sings his own praises. That’s why it’s crucial for you to redirect your ego and get out of your own way. Remember, your job is to be a champion for your clients, to solve their problems and find them satisfying solutions. Your job is not to be the most important person in the room or to put others down. Believe me, when you take care of your clients first and foremost, they will take care of you through their loyalty and appreciation.
BREAKING THIS BAD HABIT TACTIC: Notice how often you bring the story around to yourself. Stop doing that.Many people think building rapport is a matter of finding a common interest. They then dominate the common interest discussion by talking about themselves. Don’t. This is a form of arrogance and it takes your focus off the client.
If you’re like most people, you probably feel burdened with a myriad of worries, fears, and obligations. You assume that “it’s all up to me,” and you might even lie awake at night fretting over what isn’t right and what could go wrong. However, if you want to successfully care for your clients, you can’t expend the majority of your mental energy on worries and what-ifs. This puts you in the wrong frame of mind to think innovatively about how to meet customers’ needs. And taken to extremes, worries can effectively paralyze you and prevent you from moving forward at all. (Needless to say, in this state, you won’t be useful to clients or anyone else!)
No, I’m not saying that laying this burden down is an easy or instantaneous process. Far from it. It’s challenging to break what’s often a lifetime’s worth of mental habits. But here’s the beauty of Clients First: Success is no longer about you; it’s about your customers. Your challenge is only to do the best for your clients. It’s a win-win situation, because the clients put their faith in you and you put your faith in doing your best for them. In our experience, everything else usually works out for the best.
BREAKING THIS BAD HABIT TACTIC: Every time you find yourself fretting, do something for a client.Spend an hour solving a client problem you’ve been avoiding. Connect one client to another who might be able to help him. Email him a link to an article you know would interest him. Worry thrives when you procrastinate and hand-wring. Action is the antidote…so do something (anything) to back up your commitment to your clients.
You may think you’re always honest with your clients, but do a little soul-searching and you might be shocked at the number of little white lies, exaggerations, mis-directions, and lies of omission you’re guilty of. For example, “I’m not going to meet my deadline so I’ll tell him I’m sick to buy myself a couple more days.” Or, “This is probably not the best vendor for this particular client, but since she (the vendor) sends us a lot of business, I’m going to recommend her anyway.” Sound familiar?
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. You don’t have to worry about getting the story straight or remembering what you have and haven’t shared. You know you’re doing the right thing.
BREAKING THIS BAD HABIT TACTIC: You know that thing you’ve been wanting to say for a long time? Go ahead and say it. Don’t worry about the fallout. Bravely take the leap. You’ll find that most people want the truth. Give it to them and you’ll be joined together in a bond that never betrays.
Yes, there is such a thing! Think about it: Do you see your clients as business opportunities and sources of income, or do you see them as actual human beings with likes, preferences, quirks, and stories? To truly put clients first, your number one goal at each meeting and during each phone call should be to invite them within arm’s length and make them less of a stranger.
People want to do business with individuals they like—and they like people who like them! Sure, it’s important not to cross certain boundaries, but there’s no reason you can’t strive to make a deeper connection with your clients by asking about their kids, their pets, their hobbies, and their jobs or businesses.
Now I’ll admit—sometimes it’s not easy to like people. But if you get out there and engage, you’ll find that most of them are just like you: filled with worries, hopes, and dreams. I can tell you from experience, once you become familiar with and invested in these things, you’ll work that much harder on each client’s behalf. Plus, a client who is thrilled that you remembered her upcoming anniversary or the fact that she recently became a grandmother will be more loyal and more likely to refer you to others.
BREAKING THIS BAD HABIT TACTIC: Every time you meet with a client, ask at least one question that has nothing to do with business. Ask about their kids. Ask about their pets. Ask about their favorite food, or movie, or vintage car. The conversation will likely develop in a surprising direction. As you hear their stories and get to know their joys and sorrows, you’ll start liking them. And you’ll find it more natural to put them first as clients.
Sure, you may close each interaction with a “thank you for your business” or some variation thereof. But that doesn’t mean that your clients walk away feeling the warm fuzzies that accompany being truly appreciated. People can usually tell when you’re just mouthing a catchphrase as opposed to really meaning it, and if they don’t feel valued, they’re more apt to take their business elsewhere. Plus, if you don’t tap into an attitude of gratitude, you’re more likely to take your clients for granted, which only exacerbates the problem.
Clients, like anyone else, want to feel valued and appreciated—not just as sources of income but as individuals. JoAnn and I have realized that there are many ways to say “thank you” to clients, and not all of them are verbal. In addition to heartfelt words of thanks, you can show clients just how much you appreciate them by getting to know them personally, forgiving occasional bad behavior, and staying up-to-date in your field so that you can give them the highest level of service.
Overall, strive to make politeness, consideration, and friendliness things your company is known for, and never justify treating customers with rudeness. And, of course, when it’s financially possible, give loyal customers a freebie, discount, or gift to show them you’re thankful for their business.
BREAKING THIS BAD HABIT TACTIC: List the reasons why you’re grateful for your clients. Obviously you’re grateful for the fact that they allow you to make a living. But chances are, they bring more to the table than financial rewards, such as their loyalty, their referrals, the lessons they’ve taught you, and the relationships you’ve built together. With this list fresh on your mind, any expression of thanks—whether overt or implied—will be delivered with a ring of truth that money can’t buy.