Clients are more aggressive about speaking out for what they want than ever before. Many times, our clients may have been unhappy, but they were using the only lawyer in town or the only lawyer who specialized in the field where they had legal needs. Today, there is seemingly a lawyer on every corner. More than ever, we need to hear our clients and be responsive to their needs. Here are a few tips.
- Develop a rapport with your client. Understand what brings them to your office. People desire to be heard and understood. Even if you can’t get the financial result the client wanted, there is often some satisfaction for people who feel they have had their chance to speak out and be heard.
- Develop a “partner” mentality. Not in the law firm setting sense of the word, but the idea that you are on the same team. As a consumer, I appreciate the services that I use where I’m made to feel as though I matter and that my ideas and input are important. If you are handling a case for a client, you want to know what their goals are and what they are trying to accomplish. How will they measure success in this case? If your client’s only measure of success is a six figure settlement and you know that you can’t accomplish that for them, you are setting yourself and your client up for failure. Involve the client early in the process and help them to set measures of success that are reasonable. This will help you secure an outcome that is good for the client and good for you in that you have a satisfied client.
- Discuss methods and timing of communications with your client. Take your client’s lead and communicate as they desire or adjust their expectations to fit your office norms. If your office can be flexible and communicate as needed for each client, that’s great. Some clients will prefer phone calls with updates, followed by snail mail letters that outline the communication and gives them something to refer to. Others may want everything electronically. If you’ve decided that your procedures are important to how you practice, let the client know what to expect and let them know why. You may explain to them, it’s not that you don’t want to be responsive to their needs, but you have found that your method of communication fits your practice. The key is to have this conversation up front so there are no unmet expectations and to remember that documenting your client communications is good risk management advice.
- Deliver bad news with honesty and directness. It’s like ripping off a Band-Aid, it’s going to hurt, but you can’t avoid the pain. In reviewing bar grievances and malpractice cases, you can often see the fork in the road – rather than deal with the bad news (we lost the case, we’re not going to get the settlement you want, I blew the deadline) the lawyer begins to avoid the client or worse, to cover-up the event with a lie. Constantly adjusting your client’s expectations throughout the proceedings helps ensure that the bad news you need to deliver doesn’t seem so shocking.
- Are there any “red flags” you need to be aware of with this client? During a down economy, we need every client we can get, but avoiding some clients up front ends up saving you money, as well as heartache. Is this the client who isn’t interested in the money, but the “principle”? Or the client who has an unreasonable expectation about outcomes - whether financial or otherwise? Or the client who is searching for results you can’t provide – good health, a successful marriage, or fairness in the workplace?
- To make sure you are meeting your promises to your clients, end each conversation with these two questions: “What have I agreed to do, and when do you expect me to do it?” and “What have I promised (or predicted) will happen and when do you expect it to happen?” When the client leaves, put deadlines in your docket system to remind you that these tasks are due and respond to your client as promised.
- To get an idea of how well your clients think you are doing your job, seek their feedback through a survey. This can be a questionnaire you send them in the mail with your final bill and dis-engagement letter or you can use a free electronic service such as surveymonkey.com. Keep in mind, its better not to ask your clients how you can improve service than to ask and not make changes. Use your client input to constantly refresh and fine tune your practice.
You can’t Google good client service, you must experience it. Keep your practice vibrant by providing excellent client service.
This post is based on an article previously published in the Greensboro Bar Association newsletter