By Jan David Winitz
September 29th, 2017
This article originally appeared in a column entitled “Client First”: The Foundation for Long-term Customer Relationships in Money Inc.
Because of the nature of running a business of selling expensive artworks, I often have the opportunity to interact with clients who are corporate business executives and prominent Silicon Valley entrepreneurs. A staple of our conversations is how each of our businesses builds client relationships. I see that they are consistently interested in talking with me, because my relationships with clients are direct and intimate, and we share our insights.
They understand the value and covet the knowledge about how to build successful client relationships, something that I have been accomplishing for my 37 years as the president of an international art gallery. To be sure, selling very expensive precious tangible assets is not a mainstream business. But the insights that we discuss, I believe, are extremely important because they are the basis of long-term business relationships, no matter the product and no matter the industry.
It is clear to them that I enjoy my work tremendously; my clients appreciate what I provide them, and my staff members are well trained, hardworking and loyal. Those are key assets of any business in any industry.
There are no “tricks”, but there are lessons, some based on common sense and many others on experience, that are applicable across many industries. The most basic is one simple business principle: “Client First.” While our niche is antique Oriental rugs, our success is based on operational tenets that are all too often misapplied or disregarded by consumer facing businesses.
To achieve our goals, based on a purposefully-created business plan, I have established a virtual playbook of fundamentals:
At Claremont, we:
- We actively listen to clients, from the first moment we are in contact.
- We view all of our interactions with clients as a continuing process of discovery where we gather insights into how they think and what they value.
- We engage our clients in a “lifelong” educational process, which becomes the basis of our relationship and which is how we satisfy their needs.
- And I, personally, work daily to instill these values and principles in every member of our staff.
In a very real sense, we believe that client service starts not after a purchase, but at the initial interaction. With this as our operating premise, what we have built is a base of knowledgeable, long-term clients who value working with us.
We adhere to this approach for every interaction, whether in our physical gallery, via telephone, email or through the internet. What Client First means to us is that customer service begins before a transaction is consummated, not after.
It is an anticipatory approach based on the presumption that those who seek us out deserve a level of service at the highest level possible, whether they purchase from us or not. Admittedly, my clients, by and large, because of their financial position and because of their exposure to objects and lifestyle, expect a standard of service and “product” unknown to almost everyone else. To achieve this, it is vital that our Client First attitude be not simply a motto or tagline. It is our ethos and we are fervent about it at every level in our organization.
Over and over it has been proven that by approaching my interactions with clients as a mutual process of discovery that I am developing lifelong relationships. A Client First approach can become the differentiator that sets a business apart and provides the foundation for success. It has for us. By instilling the concept of Client First in employees, it is easily recognized by customers.
Because we regard client education as a prime factor in a relationship, our clients develop a level of confidence and maturity about what they are purchasing that is rarely attained. I have helped them, exclusively, to build important and extremely private art collections of rare rugs that are quite literally the equivalent of investment portfolios.
Our approach has always been as author Malcom Gladwell describes, “the outlier.” The conventional approach in my industry to building business has, for the most part, been “transactional.” However, our success is very much promoted by our reputation. Our one location (Oakland) is not situated in an arts/antiques enclave. Yet we have active clients on five continents who come back to do business with us over and over again, often over decades.
Over the years, we have adhered to our principles because they work. We are different than all of our competitors because we understand our market; we know our clients, and most of all, we are committed to Client First. While our technology has progressed with the times our personal commitment to Client First has not wavered. Nor will it ever.