Last week my wife and I met with a new company to process our payroll. The sales executive we met with was great, very professional, knowledgeable and personable. And young…perhaps mid-thirties. After our meeting, I smiled as memories of my second job after graduating Seton Hall University washed over me. Was I ever that young?

Six months after joining Fidelity Union Trust Company’s Marketing Department as their product manager for checking and loan products, I was promoted to Assistant Treasurer. On the org chart, I was 197th in line to become the chairman, but it didn’t matter: I was on the “moving up” side of the line of demarcation, which separated bank officers from those who were not.

On the day of my promotion, Dana, the Senior Vice President for Marketing, stopped into my new cube to congratulate me. During our brief talk, I asked for some words of advice to guide my steps as I crossed the threshold into management. Echoing the answer she was told twenty years ago when she was a young Turk new to the business world, she smiled and said, “Rather than words of wisdom, let me give you the three most important letters in the business world: CFL.”

“Customer for Life. View each customer as a long series of dynamic transactions. As officers, it’s our job to maintain and grow relationships. When a checking account customer closes his account with us, we’ll probably loose his savings account, car loan and CDs to our competitor. The customer we loose through poor service or flawed product design will likely be replaced by a new one who has less value to the bank. The customer may not always be right, but they must feel valued.

This conversation has stayed with me through three careers and has guided my thinking numerous times. Whether you call them clients, partners, employees, patients or students, regardless of your profession, we all serve “The Customer.” The next time your customer has an issue with delivery schedules, product quality, poor service, confusing pricing or unclear objectives, etc., remember that the person is your CFL and craft a solution designed to sustain the relationship over the long haul.

How do you view your customers and how have you handled challenging situations?