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 death spiral, is saying something!). But Joseph Callaway says 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. He suggests you conduct a “spring cleaning” to identify and purge the bad habits that are gumming up this crucial area of your business.
“There’s something about springtime that makes you want to get your metaphorical house in order and start fresh,” says Callaway, who, along with his wife, JoAnn, is the author of the new book Clients First: The Two Word Miracle. “If you’re feeling that impulse but not sure where to start, zero in on client relationships. This is where you’ll get the most bang for your buck.
“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.”
Here, Callaway shares ten bad habits (some fairly obvious, others much less so) 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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
Bad Habit Five: Being too professional. 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!” Callaway points out. “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,” he adds. “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.”
SPRING CLEANING 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.
To learn more, visit www.clientsfirstbook.com.
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