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 are five 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.
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. 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. 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!)
Action is the antidote…so do something (anything) to back up your commitment to your clients.
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. 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, 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.
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. 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. 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.
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.
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.
This list may seem overwhelming at first, but it really 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.