You’ve probably had a client or two who made you want to gouge out your eyes. He or she is what they call “difficult”—never satisfied, high maintenance, in short, an awful lot of trouble. Every meeting with this person becomes a drama of tears, hostility, accusations and denial. You may even have considered walking away from such a client, but according to the co-authors of Clients First: The Two Word Miracle, Joseph and JoAnn Callaway, the last thing you should be thinking of doing is firing your client.

“The business world is full of corporate gurus who advise you to get rid of the ‘bottom 10 percent’—of employees, stores, suppliers, and yes, even clients—because these lackluster organizations and people are only weighing you down,” says Callaway. “I disagree.” Callaway and his wife built a successful real estate business, which has not only survived the boom-and-bust cycle of recent years but thrived. They credit their “never fire a client” credo for that success.

“Deciding to really put clients first, whether they were individuals or institutions, was a remarkable—and remarkably simple—discovery. Even when clients make your life a lot more difficult than it theoretically should be, your job—your professional reason for being—is to serve them.”

Here are four ways to incorporate the Callaways’ approach into your business:

1. Make a commitment to put clients first. If you’re comfortable with your current level of success, the Callaways’ approach may not be for you. But if your goal is a higher level of fulfillment and professional growth, you may need to make this commitment. “You need to put your own needs second, base all of your interactions on transparency and honesty, and make it your priority to always do what’s best for the client,” says Callaway.
2. Realize that keeping clients is in your best interest. The economy may be slowly improving, but you probably still need every last commission you can earn. How you interact with clients when things are tough can set you apart from the competition and give you a head start when the economy really does pick up.
3. Learn to see the good in people. Is it possible that you could learn to like people more? Ask yourself if you keep clients at arm’s length emotionally. Do you complain about them after they’ve gone? Do you take the time to learn about them as people instead of thinking of them as just a potential sale? “I’ll admit—sometimes it’s not easy to like people. They can be difficult or have bad attitudes, and they can be a source of pain, ridicule and embarrassment. 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.”
4. Expect unreasonable emotions. As a financial advisor, you help clients plan for some pretty stressful life events. And the recent recession has made everyone worry more than usual. “Instead of dreading emotional outbursts and using them as reasons to sever a business relationship, think of alleviating the client’s worries, insecurities and fears as part of your job description. And remember, putting the client first means not reflecting their turmoil back to them.”

Making the commitment to their clients’ best interests was the best business decision the Callaways ever made. The clients they had taken care of in their hour of need returned the favor and helped them achieve outstanding success. “Trust me, everyone wins when you strive to serve instead of expending your energy on figuring out which clients ‘work’ for you.”

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