IT'S POSSIBLE YOU THINK your client relationships are great-when they are not.
Too many business owners just assume things are great if they have enough clients to stay in business.
But Joseph Callaway, co-author with wife JoAnn Callaway, wrote Clients First: The Two Word Miracle, claims you may be fooling yourself.
"Most business owners are so concerned with paying the bills that we instinctively put ourselves first," he explains. "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."
Callaway should know. He and his wife built their thriving business-Those Callaways-in a tough industry that's had more than its share of challenges. To date, they've sold over a billion dollars' worth of homes. Their book describes their late-in-life entry into the world of real estate, how they had their "Clients First" revelation, and how it has impacted their professional and personal lives. It also gives readers step-by-step advice on how to put their own customers first, as well as why each one works.
"Living and working this way is not easy," Callaway admits. "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 more 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."
Here, Callaway shares some bad habits that might be keeping you from putting clients first-and tactics to help you start sweeping them out with winter's dust bunnies:
Bad Habit One: Making client interactions about you. 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," points out Callaway. "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."
SPRING CLEANING 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.
Bad Habit Two: Worrying too much. 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," Callaway clarifies. "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."
SPRING CLEANING 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.
Bad Habit Three: 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 nine-to-five hours, it's imperative that you choose (yes, 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," Callaway promises. "Whether you are a CEO or installing brake pads, 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 Four: Fudging the truth. 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," asserts Callaway. "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."
SPRING CLEANING 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.
There are more, including always showing your gratitude.