Not many business owners strive to be second-rate. Most businesses at least pay lip service to a desire for being their customers’ or clients’ first choice. But all too often, their actions say otherwise.
The solution is actually quite simple: If you put your customers first, they are far more likely to put you first, too. It’s a two-way street; but not an easy street, says Joseph Callaway, who along with his wife JoAnn, wrote a book called “Clients First: The Two Word Miracle” (Wiley, 2012).
You can’t coast into a “first choice” role. The minute you start coasting – aiming lower than you should – you’ll find yourself falling to second, third or worse in the customer choice derby.
Fortunately, there are plenty of warning signs that are tipoffs your business is “settling” when it should be succeeding. Here’s what low aim looks like – and what to do about it:
1) Your top goal is to make money. Sure, it’s a business, so you need to make money. But if that’s all you want, you’ll never run a business that’s number one in the hearts and minds of customers and clients. Customers are smart. They can sense when money is your first motivation, and they come second.
2) You let the little things slide. Little stuff counts. Sending emails full of errors; being late to meetings or failing to remember a name might seem like things that don’t matter much in the long run. But in the long run is precisely when they DO matter. Keeping an eye only on the “big” things such as growth or generating leads can blind you to seeing what customers really want and need. “Promises kept, deadlines met, little extra flourishes and small acts of kindness add up to happy clients,” says Callaway.
3) You tell little lies. Exaggerating, misdirecting or omitting things might make business run smoother…briefly. But there’s always a chance customers will see through it and call you on the carpet. And even if they don’t, a pattern of “stretching the truth” is indicative of a broader attitude that relegates clients to second or third priority.
4) You badmouth the competition. As in politics, if you sling mud at the opponent, you’re going to get dirty yourself. Wouldn’t you rather rise in stature on your own merits? Even better, your goal should be to earn the goodwill and admiration of your rivals.
5) You feel your only obligation to employees is cutting a paycheck. Do you listen when they talk to you and try to accommodate their needs? Are you courteous and enthusiastic with them? Just keep this in mind: The way you treat employees rubs off, and that’s how they will likely treat customers or clients.
6) You spend more time avoiding customers than listening to what they have to say. Chances are, you roll out the red carpet when you are pitching prospects. And you’re more than willing to accommodate whims and requests from new customers who aren’t yet cemented in. But what about older, more established clients? Are you spending the same time with them – or are you taking them for granted? As Callaway says, “Businesses that become number one don’t do so because they win customers over once, but because they do it every day. A good experience once won’t keep them coming back forever if they believe your product or service has slipped.”
7) You don’t know anything about your customers or clients outside of business. To some business owners, asking about customers’ family and outside interests seems unprofessional. But to the customer or client, it can make you come off as cold and impersonal. Remember, to truly serve people, you have to care. When you keep yourself at arm’s length, you can’t give clients 100 percent, and you give them a reason to take their business elsewhere.
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About the Author: Daniel Kehrer, Founder and Chief Content Officer of BizBest Media, is a senior-level leader in digital media, content development and online marketing with special expertise in startups, SMB, social media and generating traffic, engagement and leads. He holds an MBA from UCLA/Anderson and is a passionate entrepreneur (started 4 businesses), syndicated columnist, blogger, thought leader and author of 7 business and financial books.