Any entrepreneur willing to endure the proverbial “blood, sweat, and tears” it takes to start a business knows how important clients are. They write the checks that pay the bills. So keeping them satisfied is rarely just lip service. In fact, most business owners believe they are putting their clients first. But what they don’t realize is they’ve developed an array of bad habits that accomplish just the opposite.
Most businesspeople would be shocked to hear they’re putting clients last. But in reality they’re putting so many other things first — their own bank accounts, comfort, convenience, even their own pride — that the customer really does come last…or close to it, anyway.
I’m not talking about business owners who knowingly do shoddy work or try to shortchange customers — odds are, their companies will die a quick and early death. I’m talking about those who do have good intentions — who try to be polite, fair, and offer a good value — but who allow deceptively small aspects of their day-to-day decisions and habits to take precedence over the customer’s wellbeing.
Closing each customer interaction with “Thank you for your business,” offering discounts for continued loyalty, or working the occasional few hours past close-of-business to resolve a client’s problem is nice, even commendable. But by my standards, these practices don’t mean you’re always putting clients first.
Here, I share five ways in which you may be inadvertently failing your customers.
1. You believe your No. 1 business goal is to make money.
Ummm…isn’t that the point of running a company? you might be asking. Well, it is a point, 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. 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 allow your accountancy office’s college intern 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 spellcheck 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.
So often in life, it’s the small details that differentiate “good” from “great.” 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.