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Eleven Steps to Putting Clients First

We put the customer first. We’ve heard it (and probably said it) so many times it’s become a cliché. And yet, while we pay lip service to the idea, few companies truly put it into practice. The fact is, we’re so concerned with bottom lines, profit margins, and paying the bills (at work and at home!) that we instinctively put ourselves first. But as counterintuitive as it may seem, that anxious sense of self-preservation may be exactly what’s holding you back.

When you really put the customer first, and put your own needs second, a whole lot of other things naturally fall into place. Tough decisions practically make themselves. Since you’re no longer pitting the client’s needs against your own, relationships are based on transparency and honesty. People like and trust you, and referrals flow freely.

If there is a magic bullet, putting clients first is it. It has the power to change your life, to transform your business, and to bring about financial security.

            We should know. JoAnn and I built our thriving business—Those Callaways—in a tough industry that’s had more than its share of challenges. Our book, Clients First: The Two Word Miracle describes our late-in-life entry into the world of real estate, how we had our “Clients First” revelation, and how it has impacted our professional and personal lives. It also gives readers step-by-step advice on how to put their own customers first, as well as why each one works.


            JoAnn and I entered real estate in 1996 when interest rates were almost 9 percent. Since then, we have lived through a bubble and survived a horrible economic downturn—and managed to prosper through both, while many of our fellow realtors never recovered. We have sold over a billion dollars’ worth of homes.

And we credit it all to our remarkable—and remarkably simple—discovery of putting clients first, whether they were individuals or institutions. Even through the darkest days, our clients kept calling our phones and coming to our open houses. They took care of us just as we had taken care of them.

But what does putting clients first REALLY look like? Read on for all eleven parts of our transformative Clients First principle:

Step One: Make the Commitment. For many people, “commitment” is a scary word—and for good reason. It implies that you have accepted responsibility, that you are “locked in,” and (sometimes) that you have given up an aspect of your freedom. For all of those reasons, and many more, most commitments should not be taken lightly. But here’s the good news: Because sincere commitments require you to step up and take a stand, they often lead to great things.

Step Two: Speak the Commitment. Step One—Make the Commitment—won’t ultimately mean much if you don’t share your intentions with others. If you say nothing, your commitment will begin to wither like a potted flower that isn’t watered. However, speaking your commitment gives you strength, and it’s instrumental in affirming (and reaffirming) to yourself what your goals are and why.

Step Three: Keep the Commitment. Some days, you’ll want to say, “To heck with this difficult person! He can fend for himself from now on!” Or you might just be so tired and overwhelmed that you’re tempted to cut some corners and let some non-priorities slide. You must try as hard as you can to resist the temptation. Clients First is something you must consciously recommit to every day. Remember, it’s usually not the big things that trip us up; it’s the little steps we miss.


Step Four: Get Yourself Out of the Way. Remember, your job is to be a champion for your clients, to solve their problems and find them satisfying solutions. Your job is not to be the most important person in the room or to put others down. Believe me, when you take care of your clients first and foremost, they will take care of you through their loyalty and appreciation.

Step Five: Set the Monkey Down. …the monkey that’s riding your back in the form of responsibility and pressure, that is! If you’re like most people, you probably feel burdened with a myriad of worries, fears, and obligations. You assume that “it’s all up to me.” However, if you want to successfully care for your clients, you can’t be expending the majority of your mental energy on yourself.

I’m not saying that putting the monkey down is an easy or instantaneous process. Far from it. But here’s the beauty of Clients First: Success is no longer about you; it’s about your customers. Your challenge is to only do the best for your clients.

Step Six: Put Your Faith in Others. This has two meanings: serving others and then letting others serve you. Serving others means separating the service you render from the paycheck you receive. No, don’t give your services away for free; just make sure that padding your bank account isn’t your primary motivation. In other words, do your job because you genuinely want to help your clients, and don’t worry about what you’ll get in return. (When you have this mindset, you’ll probably find that your clients feel just as strongly about compensating you fairly!)

Yes, putting your faith in others can sometimes be a leap of faith. Sometimes you will be left holding the bag, and there’s nothing you can do about it. But more often, you’ll have opened yourself up to winning in a situation where reluctance might have caused you to fail. 

The second aspect of putting your faith in others is allowing them to help you by delegating tasks or leveraging others’ talents. No matter how good you are, you can’t do it all. And when you trust others and give them the freedom they need to do their jobs, you’ll usually be pleased with the results.


Step Seven: Trust the Truth. If someone accused you of not being honest, you’d probably have the same reaction we did before discovering Clients First: “How can you even ask that? Of course I’m honest!” And by most people’s standards, you probably are. But it’s also likely that you aren’t being totally, completely authentic in the way you handle relationships and do business.

Step Eight: Let the Work Be the Reward. In the real world (and especially in a tough economy), you can’t always follow the popular graduation day advice and “do what you love.” But what you can do, regardless of how you spend your nine-to-five hours, is choose to take pride in your work. When you consciously decide to put forth your best efforts, you’ll experience greater rewards and you’ll get better at what you do!

Step Nine: Learn to Like People. Even if you already consider yourself to be a people person, chances are you still need to learn to like them more. Think about it: Do you see your clients as business opportunities and sources of income, or do you see them as actual human beings with likes, preferences, quirks, and stories? To truly put clients first, your number one goal at each meeting should be to invite them within arm’s length and make them less of a stranger. 

Step Ten: Turn It Around. You, not the customer, are the expert on your business. You are the one who knows how to sell real estate or market a product or properly install a heat pump. But does that mean that yours is the only opinion that matters? Of course not. No matter what industry you’re in, you need to turn your viewpoint around and make a sincere effort to see yourself and your business as your client does.

Step Eleven: Give to Get. We’ve all heard the expression, “The more you give, the more you get.” And we understand its meaning when it comes to things like love, smiles, and kindness. But how does it relate to business? Well, you can give your clients honesty, competence, and care, and hope to get those things back. But if you give away your expertise, time, energy, and (gasp!) money, won’t you just go broke?

Not necessarily. I remember being very apprehensive about donating a large sum of money to build a Habitat for Humanity house as a Christmas gift for our clients. I thought I’d never see that money again. But in the years since, I’ve learned that new clients chose us—and even that a bank gave us all of their foreclosures to sell—because they had learned of that donation. Now, you might not always give and get on such a large scale. But the principle works for all amounts of money, and it also works when you’re giving over-and-beyond service.

As you’re implementing each step, remember that Clients First—like life itself—isn’t so much a destination as it is a journey. If you commit to it, Clients First is a path you’ll be traveling for the rest of your life. It will fill you with pride, clarify your perspective, and promote your business’s prosperity. Most of all, your clients will love you for it—and you will love them!

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About the Authors:

Joseph Callaway and JoAnn Callaway are coauthors of the New York Times bestseller Clients First: The Two Word Miracle and founders of the real estate company Those Callaways.

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