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Put Your Customers, Clients First

 Here's a simple formula for increasing your profits and improving your service: Put your customers and clients first.

You may be surprised to learn you're not doing that, but so many entrepreneurs unknowingly put their own bank accounts, their comfort, their convenience and their pride before the people they're supposed to be serving. And that's a recipe for disaster.
But, you may argue," I always say thank you for your business;" and offer discounts and special coupons. You may even spend time after hours working out problems with them. Still, that's not enough, contend JoAnn and Joseph Callaway who together wrote 
Clients First.

Here are some clues from the Calloways that you're not doing as you should:

1. You believe your number-one business goal is to make money. Ummm...isn't that the point of running a company? You might be asking. Well, it's a point, says Callaway, but it's not the point. A too-acute focus on improving the bottom line takes your attention off of the people who are going to enable you to raise it: your customers. Your clients can always tell when they're not your first priority. (If you're skeptical, just consider the backlash that often occurs when small businesses are bought out and transformed by larger, more impersonal corporations.)

"The difference between paying attention to service so that your clients will give you more business and doing so because serving the customer is your first priority may feel slight, but it's significant," Callaway promises. "Taking your focus off the bottom line may feel uncomfortable at first. But you'll soon 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-even if you make less money. This neutralizes moral dilemmas and really simplifies your life. And it can have a miracle effect on your growth and success."

2. You let the little things slide. As a business owner, there are a lot of "big" things you'd never neglect. For example, you wouldn't lock up for the night without making sure that your restaurant's kitchen was thoroughly cleaned, and you wouldn't allow your accountancy office's college intern to prepare a client's taxes. However, you might not be such a stickler for what you believe are "smaller things." Rushing through paperwork so you can get home early, failing to spell check an email or two, and running late to a meeting probably won't matter that much six months from now, you think. But that's not necessarily the case, says Callaway.

"So often in life, it's the small details that differentiate 'good' from 'great,'" he says. "And make no mistake: If it impacts a customer's happiness, best interests, comfort level, or anything else even the slightest bit, it's not a 'little' thing. When you fail to get the small details right, you fail to truly put customers first. On the other hand, promises kept, deadlines met, little extra flourishes, and small acts of kindness add up to happy clients.
"One thing Those Callaways does with clients in escrow is to call or email them every day, even if nothing is happening," he adds. "This simple message of 'nothing happening, wanted you to know' is a huge stress reliever and an even bigger business builder."
3. If it's not "broke," you don't fix it. Many business owners subscribe to the theory that if something's not broken, they don't need to fix it. If the check-in paperwork your receptionist uses has been in place for years and you're not getting many complaints, why tinker with it? If your knowledge is sufficient to handle most of your clients' problems, why spend valuable time learning more? According to Callaway, the answer is simple: If you don't consistently strive to improve, you're not putting your clients first.
"I'm not saying you need to spend every minute of your spare time attending conferences, taking classes and webinars, and reading industry journals," he clarifies. "However, you should make it a priority to stay familiar with the way your industry is growing and changing. You should also do everything possible to offer your customers the quality and value they deserve. Always question the status quo, and ask yourself how you can make it better. You don't just want your customers to be satisfied; you want them to be pleasantly surprised every time they do business with you."
4. You downplay your mistakes. Nobody likes the mishmash of negative feelings that accompanies making a mistake. That's why many business owners (and their employees) resolve matters with clients as quickly as possible when a ball is dropped, and then try to never speak of the matter again. After all, there's no sense wallowing in your slip-up-you need to move forward! Right?

"Wrong," states Callaway. "When your company makes a mistake, no matter how big or small, it's your responsibility to stare that mistake in the face and get to the very bottom of what went wrong. That's not just so you can fix one particular error; it's so you can figure out why it happened and make sure it doesn't occur again.

"Every mistake is a good learning opportunity," he adds. "Maybe you'll figure out that you need to improve a quality-control procedure, for example, or perhaps a client's complaint about mail being sent to her former address will spur you to update your record-keeping systems. My point is, when you sweep a mistake under the rug instead of allowing it to make you better, you aren't putting your clients' future interests first."

6. You habitually let certain clients go to voicemail. It's happened to everyone: When you see that name flash on your phone's caller ID, you slowly pull your hand back from the receiver and let the ringing continue. You just don't want to deal with the drama, or the whining, or the accusations, or the belligerence just now. Yes, we all have "problem" clients. But to avoid them or just go through the motions for them is a mistake. They will notice and remember your behavior. (And be honest: Would you want to give your business to someone who might write you off when the going got tough?)

"Clients First means all clients," Callaway insists. "In over fourteen years, my wife and I have never gotten rid of a single client-even when we secretly wished we could-and we believe this no-fire strategy has contributed significantly to our ultimate success. Here's the payoff: When you make the choice to stand by all of your frazzled, frustrated customers, you will eventually reap financial and personal rewards.

"You may even become known in your company or industry as the guy or gal who can handle the toughest customers," he adds. "And chances are, your clients themselves will be grateful that you didn't give up on them and may even send others your way."

8. You spend more time trying to get off the phone than really hearing what the customer has to say. Chances are, you roll out the red carpet in order to get prospective clients on board. And you're probably willing to bear with the whims, questions, and requests of fairly new customers whose business isn't yet cemented. But what about older, more established clients? Do you take the same amount of time and care with them, or do you assume they'll stick with you out of habit and convenience?

"If you wouldn't hang up the phone at the first opportunity with a client you signed last week, don't do it with one you signed ten years ago," advises Callaway. "Companies that become number one don't do so because they win customers over once, but because they do it every day. A good experience last month usually won't keep a customer coming 9. 
Obviously, the Calloways believe the most important thing to do is Put Your Customers First.
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