It’s all about the clients. Of course, sometimes we’d rather practice law without having to deal with clients. We’d be in better control of our time and of the process. There would be fewer interruptions. We wouldn’t have to explain the same legal concept over and over again.
But clients pay our bills and they either refer other clients to us or warn prospects away. Happy clients are much less time-consuming and more pleasant to interact with than unhappy clients. With apologies to Tolstoy, unhappy clients can make your life miserable each in their own way.
So, how do you get happy clients? By exceeding their expectations.
You and your team – and this has to be a team effort – can do this every step of the way, from the initial email or call to the firm to the follow-up after the work is complete. While the opportunities to improve your processes and delight your clients are unlimited, here are 10 steps you and your team can take:
- Be welcoming and concerned. Whoever answers the phone — the receptionist, administrative assistant, or lawyer — needs to care about the prospective client’s situation and offer support. To the extent possible, the prospect’s immediate concern should be addressed immediately, whether that’s a desire to make an appointment with the attorney, to get a referral, or to ask a question. When neither the person answering the phone nor anyone else who is available can respond to the client’s need immediately, then the person answering the phone needs to take on the responsibility of getting the answer and getting back to the prospect as soon as possible. This may mean simply scheduling a short call with an attorney or finding a good referral if the person doesn’t need legal assistance or needs a different legal specialty from the one you offer.
- Send a note. Even in this day of computers and email, personal notes make a difference. Your firm should have note cards. Take a few minutes to write a note telling new clients that you are looking forward to meeting them. After you have completed your engagement, send a note thanking them for the business and saying that it was a pleasure to work with them (assuming this is true). Write to them again on important occasions – 80th birthday, 50th anniversary, etc. Use your case management system to remind you of these dates.
- Offer additional value. Do whatever you can to help your clients outside of the particular task for which you were hired. Make referrals to other professionals they may need. Explain how they can maximize their Social Security benefits, or take advantage of the state programs for people with developmental disabilities. To the extent you can provide important information and referrals, your clients will value your services more highly, come to depend on you, and refer others to you for assistance.
- Be clear about deadlines and meet (or exceed) them. In addition to the word of the hour, “transparency,” we should add “clarity.” Be clear about what you will do for the client and when you will do it. If you will be preparing draft estate planning documents, say when the client will receive them – by next Friday. And then deliver. Make sure that the documents are completed by then (or sooner).
- Or communicate with the client if you cannot. Of course, things come up and sometimes you can’t meet the deadlines to which you committed. Don’t just let them slide. Contact the client as soon as possible and let her know when you will deliver the draft documents or do the legal research to answer her question. In nine cases out of ten, the client will be delighted that you called and will have positive rather than negative feelings. But if you don’t get in touch and the client is wondering why she hasn’t heard from you, in nine cases out of ten she will begin to lose confidence in your abilities and follow-through.
- After documents are executed, follow up. When you have completed the work for which you were engaged, don’t stop there. Get back in touch with the clients. Do they have any questions? Did the trust funding go well? Would they like to have a meeting or a conference call with their financial planner or accountant or children to make sure everyone is on the same page?
- Provide useful information by print or email newsletter. Keep in touch with your clients and continue to provide them with valuable information and resources through a firm email or print newsletter (or both).
- Remember their personal circumstances. Take notes that you can easily refer to about clients’ family, health, work, hobbies, charities, travels and passions. Make sure that you can connect with clients on more than the facts and figures of their finances and estate planning documents. That information may well inform the advice you provide and will definitely enhance your relationships with clients. If you can remember all of this, that’s great. If you can’t, take good notes and make sure you know where to find them easily.
- Coordinate with referral sources. If your client was referred to you by another professional, such as a financial planner, accountant or attorney working on another issue, make sure that you all coordinate the work you are performing for the client. Don’t think of what you do in a silo. If all the professionals do so, a lot may fall in the spaces between the silos. Communicate and work together to get the best and easiest outcome for the client and to avoid time-consuming snafus.
- You will only be able to do even some of what is listed above on a consistent basis if you develop systems for yourself and your office. Without systems in place, all of your client service initiatives will be sporadic and hit or miss. With working systems that are followed and frequently reviewed and improved, you can provide outstanding service that exceeds client expectations. Not only will this make your firm function more smoothly, but it will mean more referrals from happy clients.