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The Business Owner's Dirty Dozen, Part 2

Even more not-so-obvious tips to help operations put clients first.

November 14, 2013

Continued from part 1.

Treat employees at least as well as you treat your clients.

While you don’t treat your employees like dirt, you may feel that you don’t owe them any special favors, either.

After all, you’re paying them — isn’t that enough?

Well, no.

Whether you realize it or not, the way your people treat customers reflects the way you treat them.

Are you courteous? Kind? Polite? Enthusiastic?

Do you listen when they talk to you and try to accommodate their needs?

Or are you short, perfunctory and even sometimes rude?

“Your job is to serve others, period,” Joseph Callaway says. “You can’t do that by making distinctions between the people who work for you and the people to whom you provide a good or service. Realize that you set the tone for your company’s ‘personality,’ and that you’re creating a tribe of people who will beat the drum for your message. Going at it alone is too exhausting!”

Make sure your highest praise comes from your competitors.

Yes, you read that correctly.

You can — and should — strive to win the approval, goodwill and admiration of your competitors.

If possible, get to know their leaders and employees and help them when you can.

You don’t have to give away trade secrets, but you can offer advice, for example, or refer a customer whose needs are better matched to what another business has to offer.

Don’t do these things manipulatively, but in the spirit of giving — your efforts will come back to you with interest.

Have faith that there is enough business to go around.

“Every Christmas, JoAnn sends personalized ornaments not only to our clients but also to the thousands of agents with whom we have done a cross-sale,” Callaway shares. “We get incredible responses from them. Last month Brian Choate, who works for a competitor firm, went so far as to video a ‘mini book review’ for Clients First in which he shared how much these ornaments mean to him. Trust me, the respect of your peers and especially your competitors is priceless. If you have little contact with them, now is the time to change that. Go to industry conferences. Join associations. Remember, it’s a big world but a small community … so make your mark in a positive, memorable way.”

Look for chances to do something fun and special.

It’s true: All work and no play make Jack a dull boy.

However, injecting a little lightheartedness and creativity into your business gives your customers something to look forward to and provides them with a memorable reason to stay engaged and loyal.

Whether you give free popcorn to moviegoers, throw an outdoor tent party to celebrate each year’s new product line or give a gorgeous framed print to your interior design clients, you make clients feel special.

“These special touches will keep clients coming back,” Callaway promises. “Every Christmas we send personalized ornaments to our clients and other business associates. We put a lot of effort (and money) into this yearly treat and people love it. It sets us apart, and our investments always come back to us with interest!”

If you aren’t driven to be “number one” with your clients, you might as well close your doors.

Many business owners will admit that they just want “to do a good job” or “make a living.”

This isn’t good enough, says Callaway.

Especially if your business is smaller and less established, being the customer’s second choice (or third or fourth or fifth) means you’re on the road to eventual failure.

Why?

When times get tough — or when a new flavor-of-the-month company shows up — customers will have no qualms about abandoning a company they don’t love above all others.

Talk about a compelling reason to never ever accept mediocrity.

Not to mention the fact that, by definition, you can’t take the best care of clients when you’re content with being good-enough.

“However, don’t make the mistake of thinking that being number one is about competing with other businesses,” Callaway cautions. “If your focus is on competing, then it isn’t on the customer. Instead, think of yourself as being in a contest to fulfill each client’s dreams … and you’ll automatically be competitive with other companies! Also, don’t buy into the belief that you have to win over a client only once. You must do so every single day. A good experience last month usually won’t be enough to keep a customer coming back this month if he or she believes that your level of service has slipped.”

Never, ever fire a tough client.

When a client is needy, moody, picky, overly emotional, combative or something else, it’s tempting to write him or her off.

And if you can’t wave goodbye in reality (after all, most small business owners need to get paid), you do it mentally and merely go through the motions of serving the client.

That’s a mistake.

If you aren’t meeting a client’s needs, it’s their job to fire you … not the other way around.

Clients First means all clients,” Callaway insists. “In over 14 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 become known in your company or industry as the guy or gal who can handle the toughest customers. And chances are, your clients themselves will be grateful that you didn’t give up on them and may even send others your way.”

A “Clients Last” attitude leaves a long legacy.

By now, Callaway has established that having a Clients First attitude can benefit you and your small business in numerous ways.

He’s also adamant that the opposite attitude can have just as tremendous of an impact … a negative one.

Never, ever underestimate the damage that putting your clients last taking them for granted — not listening to their concerns, patronizing them, putting your own interests first, etc. — can do, and how far it can spread.

“A fellow real estate agent shared this story with us,” Callaway recounts. “When he was growing up in Buffalo, New York, every time his family drove past a local department store his father would never miss the opportunity to say, ‘I don’t go there.’ As our friend grew up and drove by that same store with his teenaged friends, he found himself saying, ‘I don’t go there.’ This agent never knew how the store had slighted his father, but regardless, he continued the tradition generationally. This is the damage ‘Clients Last’ can wreak.”

“No matter what industry you’re in, and no mater what good or service your small business provides, these twelve tactics will help with the task of bootstrapping your company,” Callaway concludes. “Even if putting clients first — no matter what — seems counterintuitive at first, give this way of doing business — and living life — a chance. If you take care of your customers, they will take care of you.”

 

Joseph Callaway and JoAnn Callaway are coauthors of the New York Times bestseller Clients First: The Two Word Miracle and founders of the real estate company Those Callaways. JoAnn sold more than 4,000 homes totaling in excess of a billion dollars. She accomplished this in her first 10 years selling real estate, and she did it one client at a time. She is proud to be a REALTOR® and believes her fellow agents share her heart for helping others. She loves flowers, art, books and Joseph. Joseph is the author of countless advertisements, newspaper pages, magazine layouts, fliers, blog posts, manuals, property profiles and thousands of real estate contracts. He surfed Dana Point, California, before the Army Corps of Engineers built the breakwater and he loves JoAnn very much.