Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
This might be triggering for some of you, and believe me, it does bring a few interesting moments to mind. But one thing as business owners — especially in service-based industries — we must learn is how to practice treating all clients with the same respect, integrity and urgency in our work.
I can hear the murmuring in your heads as you read this. You might say, “But this client was a real jerk!” Or, “Well, this client doesn’t pay as much, so it’s less important.” I hear you — and there are plenty of other reasons why some clients or customers really bug us. The reality is, these are just people who work for other people who need to impress other people so they can make other people happy. You see? It’s the circle of business life. We are all just people in this thing together.
More importantly, we are people who help other people, whether it’s in the immediate moment or 12 months down the road. And you never know who you’ve impacted along the way in those quiet moments who might be the one who opens doors for you later.
In my experience running a PR agency, we have worked with brands of all types of budgets, from our earliest days taking on small projects, to six-figure contracts today. Here’s a little secret: Those small projects that we took on (and may or may not have lost money) — those clients trusted us so much that they often made introductions that led to bigger projects. And we’re grateful for that because we’ve grown almost exclusively by word-of-mouth.
It really comes down to perspective. Are we able to view people that we meet as more than just dollars and cents? Are we capable of seeing ourselves in their shoes? Can we remember where we came from and how we started? Does any of this matter? Well, that’s a loaded question I’m not prepared to answer. But I do know that we can at least consider thinking about the way we think about our clients and how they’re treated.
R-E-S-P-E-C-T: Just a little bit
We absolutely have to show respect to our clients. Big or small. A nuisance or not. Why? Because if you believe the only thing about your business that they’ll remember is the work you did and not a foul attitude, think again. In fact, think three times. People remember how they’re treated, and they’ll tell others about it. About 61% of customers would be ready to jump ship after a single bad experience. Also, showing respect is just a good thing to practice. Give respect, get respect. That’s just how it works. I don’t make the rules.
Your team will learn from your actions. So, treating people right really starts at the top of your organization.
Integrity builds trust
We need to maintain integrity with everyone we work with. That’s it. That’s all I have to say about that. Alright, don’t pull my leg — I have plenty more to say about this. But to be brief, integrity with clients (and everyone) says more for you than the work you do. It establishes trust but not the I-trust-my-mechanic-because-he-has-skills-that-I-don’t-have kind of trust. It’s more like the I’d-let-this-mechanic-build-a-car-for-my-sixteen-year-old’s-first-car kind of trust we aim for. My kids are only nine and ten, so I have some time to worry about that.
The point is, your clients need to be able to trust you when they are not watching. In fact, 96% of customers say great service builds trust. I’ve encouraged my team to be comfortable admitting when something isn’t working with the client’s project. Tell them you’re struggling. Let them know what’s going on, good and bad so they don’t have to find out. The beautiful thing about people is that most of the time, we listen. And if you’re open and honest with clients, they’ll know they can take your word even in tough situations.
Urgency, because nobody likes to wait
Seriously — customers are becoming increasingly impatient in recent years. So, we should act with urgency on projects for our clients. It’s easy to put things off because “it’s not worth the time or money.” But we cannot view our clients that way. I can hear you again (I should be a psychic!). Time is money — this is true, and I wouldn’t want any of you hard-working people out there wasting your time. However, think about an experience where you waited for a small service or project to get done and you had the thought, “This is probably a small project for them, so I’m probably not top of mind.” Has anyone else ever felt that? If it’s just me, then I have bigger problems to figure out.
Anyway, this goes back to what I stated earlier: People will remember how they were treated. If you’re treating your clients or customers like their problem isn’t important enough for your attention — an email, a meeting, a callback and so on — you can only hope the work is so good that they’ll say, “That was worth the wait!” Otherwise, you may have lost any chance of repeat business.
Of course, we all face varying situations with some being more complicated than others. How much more do you feel like reading? Because I could tell some stories about tough situations! And I’ve been told that things change with more age and experience (but I’m a vampire, and I don’t age — so there’s that). Here’s the thing: I’ve witnessed the ways some leaders choose to deal with clients. I’ve been in the room with folks who explain how they prioritize projects based on size or prestige, and maybe I’m just a soft pile of mush, but I always think about being on the receiving end of that type of treatment. Yes, I have actually been on that end. It stinks. Let’s collectively try not to stink.
When we don’t stink, we can grow and profit, and the people are all happy, and a new circle of business begins! It’s great! In the next couple of days after you’ve read this and are no longer irritated by my pro-customer mindset (I can speak directly to your team for more tips if you’d like?), I’d love to hear how your perspective changes or how you might handle a pressing situation. When it’s all over, the end goal is for us to have happy clients and a happy bottom line.