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Joseph Callaway, co-author with his wife JoAnn, of "Clients First: The Two Word Miracle," says businesses may be merely surviving instead of thriving because they're only scratching the surface of what it means to truly put the customer first.

What is a customer service spring cleaning?

There's something about springtime that makes you want to get your metaphorical house in order and start fresh. If you're feeling that impulse professionally but are not sure where to start, zero in on client relationships. This is where you'll get the most bang for your buck. Without realizing it, many business owners are merely surviving instead of thriving because they're only scratching the surface of what it means to truly put the customer first.

Explain bad habits that hurt client relationships.

Some are fairly obvious, others are much less so. Here are a few surprising practices that might be keeping you from putting clients first:

Worrying too much • If you want to successfully care for your clients, you can't expend the majority of your mental energy on worries and what-ifs. This puts you in the wrong frame of mind to think innovatively about how to meet customers' needs. And taken to extremes, worries can effectively paralyze you and prevent you from moving forward at all.

Fudging the truth • You may think you're always honest with your clients, but do a little soul-searching and you might be shocked at the number of little white lies, exaggerations, mis-directions and lies of omission of which you're guilty. For example, "I'm not going to meet my deadline so I'll tell him I'm sick to buy myself a couple more days." Sound familiar?

Being too professional • 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 and during each phone call should be to invite them within arm's length and to make them less of a stranger.

Writing off difficult clients • Sometimes, it seems that your job — and life in general — would be so much easier without that one client. Maybe he just can't be satisfied. Or she asks for way more of your time than she's actually worth. Whatever the case, you've mentally written off this client. You're just going through the motions required to get your monthly retainer check rather than truly looking for ways to meet the client's needs.

How can these habits be purged?

The solution to all of these issues — and many more—can be summed up in a two-word philosophy: Clients First. Although most business owners don't realize it, they're so concerned with bottom lines, profit margins and paying the bills that they instinctively put themselves selves first. It's a behavior fueled by fear. But when you really put the customer first, and put your needs second — which is the essence of Clients First — many other things naturally fall into place. Decisions will become easier. Your relationships will be based on true transparency. You'll take pride in your work. You'll be generous with your time and efforts. In other words, your bad relationship habits will begin to dissipate on their own. And over time, your clients will begin to take care of you just as you have taken care of them.

Dawn House Joseph and JoAnne Callaway, authors