*The following article is an excerpt from Bill Cates' book "Get More Referrals Now!"
In your business, as in any business, your integrity is everything. To win clients, to keep clients, and to gain referrals, you must allow your integrity to show in many ways, as often as you can. Integrity shows up in at least two ways in business. First, it means doing what you say you'll do. Second, it means never violating your own standards of behavior.
Every time you tell a prospect or client that you will do something, you'd better do it -- in a timely fashion. This is how trust is built. Let your prospects and clients know from the very beginning that your word means something. Show them they can count on you to do what you say you will. This is not always an easy standard to uphold. Often, we agree to something without thinking it all the way through, only to realize later that we misjudged our ability to deliver on our promise.
Be careful what you say you will do. Be thoughtful with how you give your word. Take an extra moment to look at your schedule or think through the situation. My clients have become accustomed to me making careful decisions. And since I follow through on my word, they appreciate my thoughtfulness. If you say you will have information to a client by 4 p.m. on Monday, get it there. If there is a good reason why you can't, then don't wait for the client to call you. Call him as soon as you know you won't be on time. Keeping promises is essential to maintaining your integrity and building trust -- and earning referrals. I guarantee that if the commitment time passes and you don't call, he will remember it. He'll withhold his trust until you prove yourself.
When you think through the commitments you make to your clients, you'll often have the opportunity to promise a deadline, knowing you just might be able to deliver sooner. Give yourself a "safe" delivery time, and then come through sooner whenever you can.
Keep your word to yourself
The second aspect of integrity has to do with your word to yourself. A person with integrity never engages in behavior that goes against his or her own standards. The vast majority of your clients will respect and trust you when they see that you have high standards for yourself, even when that means not giving them exactly what they want or even losing a possible sale.
Don't get me wrong; you need to be infinitely flexible in how you serve your clients. No service policy should be written in stone (unless it's a regulatory issue over which you have no control). But your personal standards should never be violated. True, you may lose a client who asks you to do business in a way that violates your personal standards. But compromising on what you hold important does not allow for a win/win relationship. Every sale must be a win for both you and your client. Clients who don't let you have your half of the equation are not good clients. There may be times when you are willing to "lose" on a particular deal to get a "win" later on. Setting your personal standards for business (and the rest of your life) is an ongoing process. Sometimes, we aren't even aware of a standard until it is tested. It's a process worth your thought and energy.
Integrity is your foundation for creating trust with your clients, not to mention everyone else in your life. When people talk about you behind your back, you want them to say, "I can count on her," or "He's a man of his word."
Tell the truth
Never lie to a client. Keeping track of the truth is hard enough. With that said, when to tell the truth in certain circumstances is something of an art form. Situations may come up in which the client does not need to know every detail all at once. When all is said and done though, tell the truth to your clients. And don't forget, withholding information is also a form of lying.
Clarify -- Don't assume!
When clients give you "fuzzy phrases," don't assume you understand; clarify. When clients say they need something done "as soon as possible," stop and find out exactly what that means to them. When your internal clients (staff or home office personnel) say, "I'll try," get them to make a time-frame commitment. You must hold the people who serve you to their word so you can keep your word to your clients.
Your integrity is tested every day in many ways. And it's not always easy to maintain complete integrity. However, keeping it as a prime standard for how you live your life will make a huge difference to yourself and everyone around you.