Are You Putting Your Clients Last?

Jan 24, 2019

By Joseph Callaway

Clients write the checks that pay the bills, so keeping them satisfied is job one for any business. Unfortunately, while most business owners and leaders believe they are putting their clients first, all too often they’ve developed some bad habits that accomplish just the opposite. They may actually put clients last.

I’m not talking about people 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 have good intentions—who try to be polite, fair, and offer a good value—but who allow small aspects of their day-to-day decisions and habits to take precedence over their customers’ well-being.

Here are 10 ways you may be inadvertently failing your customers:

  1. You believe your #1 business goal is to make money. Ummm…isn’t that the point of running a company? you might ask. Well, it’s a point, but it’s not the point. Your clients can always tell when they’re not your first priority. 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 miraculous effect on your growth and success.
  2. You let the little things slide. Rushing through paperwork so you can get home early, failing to spellcheck an email or two, and arriving 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” he says. If it impacts a customer’s happiness, best interests or comfort level, 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.
  3. If it’s not “broke,” you don’t fix it. If the check-in paperwork your receptionist uses has been in place for years and you’re not getting many complaints, why tinker with it? If your knowledge is sufficient to handle most of your clients’ problems, why spend valuable time learning more? The answer is simple: If you don’t consistently strive to improve, you’re not putting your clients first. Always question the status quo, and ask yourself how you can make it better. You don’t just want your customers to be satisfied; you want them to be pleasantly surprised every time they do business with you.
  4. You downplay your mistakes. Every mistake is a learning opportunity. When your company makes a mistake, no matter how big or small, it’s your responsibility to stare that mistake in the face and get to the bottom of what went wrong. That’s not just so you can fix one particular error; it’s so you can figure out why it happened and make sure it doesn’t occur again. When you sweep a mistake under the rug instead of allowing it to make you better, you aren’t putting your clients’ future interests first.
  5.  You believe the customer is always right. When customers are simply wrong and their best interests are at stake, it’s your responsibility to say so. Putting clients first sometimes means politely but honestly disagreeing with them. For example, if a financial advisor allows a client to make an overly risky investment he’s determined to make, it doesn’t make the client right; it just makes the advisor irresponsible.
  6. You habitually let certain clients go to voicemail. It’s happened to everyone: When you see that name flash on your phone’s caller ID, you slowly pull your hand back from the receiver and let the ringing continue. You just don’t want to deal with the drama, or the whining, or the belligerence just now. Yes, we all have “problem” clients. But to avoid them or just go through the motions for them is a mistake. They will notice and remember your behavior. Here’s the payoff: When you make the choice to stand by your frazzled, frustrated customers, you will eventually reap financial and personal rewards. You may even become known in your industry as the company that can handle the toughest customers.
  7. You find yourself telling white lies. Honesty can be tough in the moment, but a reputation for trustworthiness—or untrustworthiness—can stick with you for life. Telling clients white lies, or exaggerating, misdirecting, or omitting information, might make life easier temporarily. But these “little” lies are as bad as the whoppers. There is always a chance that customers will see through you and call you out on a lie. Live by a policy of never holding back or sugarcoating and you’ll gain loyalty that money can’t buy.
  8. You spend more time trying to get off the phone than really hearing what the customer has to say. Chances are you roll out the red carpet in order to get prospective clients on board. And you’re probably willing to bear with the whims, questions, and requests of new customers. But what about older, more established clients? Do you take the same amount of time and care with them, or do you assume they’ll stick with you out of habit and convenience? Companies that become number one don’t do so because they win customers over once, but because they do it every day. A good experience last month usually won’t keep a customer coming back this month if he or she believes that your level of service has slipped.
  9. You don’t know your client’s daughter’s name or what he likes to do on the weekends. When you keep yourself at arm’s length, you can’t give your clients 100% and you give them an incentive to take their business elsewhere. People want to do business with individuals they like—and they like people who like them. Make a deeper connection with your clients by asking about their kids, pets, hobbies, and their jobs or businesses. You’ll find that most of them are just like you: filled with worries, hopes, and dreams. Once you get familiar with and invested in these things, you’ll work that much harder on each client’s behalf, and you’ll earn their loyalty in the process.
  10. You feel your main obligation to employees is writing their paycheck. You’re paying them—isn’t that enough? The way your people treat customers reflects the way you treat your employees. Are you courteous? Kind? Enthusiastic? Do you listen when they talk and try to accommodate their needs? Or are you short, perfunctory, and even (sometimes) rude? Try to see your employees through a client’s eyes and be honest: How would they rank in a customer service competition? If you don’t like the answer, try adjusting your own attitude.

If you recognize yourself or your business in the examples above, don’t beat yourself up. Putting clients first is often the exception in the marketplace, not the rule. That’s why adhering to these principles will propel your business to increased customer satisfaction and success.

You can learn more about customer satisfaction at these AMA seminars:
Customer Service Excellence: How to Win and Keep Customers

Customer Retention

About the Author(s)

Joseph Callaway is coauthor with his wife JoAnn Callaway of the New York Times bestseller Clients First: The Two Word Miracle. They are founders of the real estate company Those Callaways. To learn more, visit or