When is it okay to ask your client to wait?

I hate waiting. It’s an issue with me. When I have an appointment with a doctor at 1pm, I expect to be seen at 1pm.

That’s the time of my appointment. Don’t make me wait.

Show me some respect. I’m paying your rent and putting braces on your kid’s teeth. I have my own clients to see. I blocked out time to see you.

If my appointment is at 1:00, don’t see me at 1:30 or even 1:05.

Don’t make me wait.

When a doctor or other professional doesn’t see me on time, I’m up at the desk asking why. I let them know I’m busy and can’t wait. I’ve been known to threaten to send the doctor a bill for my waiting time. I’ve been know to leave and get another doctor.

As I said, I hate to wait.

I’ve been doing some conference calls this week. As usual, some of the participants get on the call after the scheduled time. I don’t wait for them. If we’re scheduled to start at 5pm, that’s when I start.

Why should I make the people who show up on time wait for the ones who don’t?

When you start on time, you show people that you are organized and disciplined and professional. It shows that you keep your promises and tells people that they can count on you.

Don’t be late. Don’t make people wait.

Some say being late makes you appear more important. Nah, it just makes you rude.

Something else. When a client is in the office with you and your get a call, I know you know better than to take that call. I know you instruct your staff that unless it is an emergency, when you have a client in the office you are not to be disturbed.

Please say you do that. Please say you know it’s rude to take calls when a client is in the office.

Okay, good.

But how about when you’re on the phone with a client? Have you ever said to a client, “Can you hold on for a minute?” so you can take another call? Even if it is to tell the new caller that you’ll call them back?

Maybe that doesn’t rise to the level of rudeness but if you think about it from the client’s perspective, it tells them that other people are more important than they are.

Even though it’s just for a minute. Even though they said it was okay.

Marketing legal services like a pro

Stop trying to make everyone like you

Believe it or not, some people don’t like me. Okay, maybe it’s not me they don’t like, they don’t like my writing.

They think my ideas “aren’t for them”. My writing style makes them uncomfortable. They don’t think I understand them or can help them.

You know what? I don’t care.

For one thing, I never hear from them. They quietly leave my email list or stop visiting my blog. They’re gone, like a fart in the wind, and will probably never return.

The other reason I don’t care is that they aren’t my target market. I don’t write to them, or for them. If they don’t “grok” me, they probably don’t trust me and my ideas and thus they aren’t going to hire me or recommend me.

If I cared about what they thought and tried to appeal to them, I would have to water down my style or homogenize my ideas. If I did that, I would be doing a disservice to the ones who do like me: my prospects and clients.

So, I ignore them and continue to do my thang. And the more I do that, the more I attract people who like what I say because they know I’m talking to them.

One of the reasons I pound on the idea of targeting niche markets instead of marketing to “everyone” is that it allows you to connect with the people in that niche on a deeper level. By your examples and stories and yes, even your style of writing, they think, “he gets me”. That synergy leads to more clients, more referrals, and more positive word of mouth.

That doesn’t happen when you try to please everyone.

Seth Godin put it this way recently:

When we hold back and dumb down, we are hurting the people who need to hear from us, often in a vain attempt to satisfy a few people who might never choose to actually listen.

It’s quite okay to say, “it’s not for you.”

Write to the people who get you. Ignore the ones who don’t.

Marketing is easier when you know The Formula

What kids can teach you about marketing legal services

If you have kids you know that they are like a Terminator when it comes to asking questions. They never stop. They have an innate and insatiable curiosity about the world and their place in it and asking questions is how they make sense of it all.

Of course you also know that their favorite question is “why?”

When you tell them to eat their peas, they ask why. “Because I said so” isn’t a very good answer.

And yet “because I said so” will get many kids to comply. It is a reason, after all, even if it carries an innate threat of punishment for failure to do so.

On the other hand, if you give them a good reason to do what you ask, you should find it easier to get them to comply.

Well guess what? It works the same way with your clients, prospective clients, friends and followers on social media, and everyone else in your life. You want someone to hire you? Tell them why. You want them to click and read your post or register for your event? Tell them why. You want them send you referrals, tell them why?

What’s in it for them? What will they get out of it? What will happen if they don’t?

I got a text this morning from one of my business partners. There’s a conference call at 10 am and he would like me to listen to it. He told me what to do, but he didn’t tell me why.

What I will learn? What’s the subject matter? Who is the speaker? What will I get out of the call?

Many people will do what you ask out of habit or allegiance to you, out of curiosity, or because you said so. But more people will do it if you tell them why.

Studies have shown that the reason doesn’t have to be particularly strong. Offering any reason will increase response. “It’s Monday and we have a call at 10 am” isn’t a very good reason but it’s enough to get some people to dial in who otherwise might not.

But if you ask me, and you do, offering better and more compelling reasons will get more people to sign on and do what you ask.

In fact, the degree of your success in marketing legal services is a direct function of the persuasiveness of your message.

No reason? Some will comply. Lame reason? More will do so. Great reason? Home run. Multiple reasons with valuable benefits and invoking a fear of loss if they don’t? Grand slam.

You can’t threaten to send clients to their room if they don’t hire you or send you referrals. You need to tell them why.

Get this and you will get more clients and increase your income

You’re the one that I want — Ooh ooh ooh

Would your clients fly 2000 miles to come to your office when they need your services? Would they refuse to hire any other lawyer because you are the one that they want?

My grandfather regularly flew from Los Angeles to Chicago to see his dentist long after he’d moved to the West Coast. He’d been with his dentist for decades and wouldn’t think of hiring anyone else.

Would your clients say the same about you?

Yes, it’s a tall order. But it’s the standard you should aim for. To make your clients see you as their one and only.

Complete trust in you. Smitten with the way you take care of them. Convinced that no one could do it better.

Because you know them better than anyone else, and take care of them better than anyone would.

You may not be the best lawyer in a literal sense. You’re just the best lawyer for them.

Ooh Ooh Ooh.

Me love you long time: the ethics of a client inner circle

In response to my post about creating a client inner circle to recognize and reward your best clients and thus motivate them to remain loyal and refer others, I received an email from a lawyer who loves the idea but has questions.

His first question is about identifying clients, by name, when that may violate a client confidence, embarrass them, or otherwise look indelicate. The short answer is to get their permission before you reveal anyone’s name. If you don’t get it, or don’t want to ask, identify them by first name only, first name and last initial, or by a pseudonym.

Or don’t use any names. Describe them with a detail or two that won’t identify them specifically. For example, you could say which city they live in, or their occupation.

The client will know they were chosen, you’ll know, but your newsletter subscribers and other clients will only know that you had three new inductees this week.

The second question is about how to avoid letting your other clients see themselves as “second class” or think you might ignore them in favor of your inner circle clients.

One way is to handle this is to promulgate a written policy that lays out “the rules”. For example, with respect to returning phone calls, your policy might say, “Emergency calls always move to the front of the line; Inner Circle clients [or whatever you name your “club”] are handled next, in the order in which calls were received; all other calls will be returned after that, but in no case, later than 48 hours.”

Another way to handle this is to say nothing specific about how return calls and the like are handled. Figure out other ways to “reward” inner circle clients.

The third question was about the ethics of providing anything of value to clients. “Some people take the position that a dinner, or an event, or round of golf, or whatever, is something of value. Giving them away is fine. Giving them away because someone sent you a referral is not,” he said.

I’m not an expert, and of course each jurisdiction has different rules, but here’s my take on this. If you don’t promise a reward in advance, and/or, the reward is of nominal value (whatever that means), you’re probably okay. But you might not be, so find out what your rules say and follow them.

If the rules aren’t clear about what is and isn’t permitted, if things fall into a gray area, I would take the chance. But that’s me. I like to draw lines and argue. You may not.

If you like the idea of an inner circle but you’re concerned about some of these issues, here’s a suggestion. Start your inner circle but don’t tell anyone about it. That is, when a client qualifies, notify them privately. Only those who are in the club will know, your other clients won’t feel left out, and nobody will know anyone’s name.

Yep, a secret society of your best clients who get their calls returned on a priority basis and are otherwise made to feel special. Of course they’ll also get your secret decoder ring, because that’s still a thing.

How to motivate clients to send you more referrals

You can’t pay clients for sending you referrals. Not cash, anyway. But you can reward them nonetheless, and thus motivate them to send more referrals.

Reward them? Yes, by including them in your inner circle. The one you have established to recognize your best clients. You know, the clients who hire you most often, send you the most referrals, and otherwise help your practice grow.

Clients who qualify for your inner circle get a special invitation, a scroll or plaque, or maybe a polo shirt with your firm’s name on it.

Nice. But you can do more.

You might invite inner circle clients to special “client dinners” with guest speakers (who pay for the dinner in return for being able to offer their services). You might invite them to your firm’s Christmas party, bar-b-que or beach party. Do you play golf? Perhaps the best of the best get to join your foursome.

If your inner circle clients own a business or professional practice, you feature them on your website and in your newsletter. You might take their employees out to lunch.

Inner circle clients get preferred access to you. You take their calls first, return their calls first, and respond to their letters first.

You might periodically enter the names of inner circle clients in a drawing for a new iPad. Maybe one lucky winner gets their legal fees free that month.

You talk up your inner circle in your newsletter. You congratulate new inductees and prize winners. You promote the upcoming event. Your other clients, the ones who haven’t yet made the cut, hear about the inner circle and want in.

You might establish qualifications for joining your inner circle, or keep it at your discretion. You can invite all clients who pay their bills on time, or only invite clients who send at least one referral every six months.

Whatever you do, those who are in will want to stay in, and those who aren’t will want to be invited. Everyone will talk about your inner circle, everyone will want to be on your team, and everyone will do more to be included.

If you like this idea, your next step is an inner circle for professionals you send you referrals. It works the same way. Behavior that gets recognized and rewarded gets repeated.

How am I doing?

Yesterday’s post was about seeking feedback from your clients, so you can discover problems that need fixing and also bring in some testimonials. A lawyer thought this was a hunky-dory idea and wanted to know if I had any sample forms he could use.

I don’t, but I sent him a few ideas he could use to design his own form. I thought I would share those with you.

Now, have you ever taken online surveys that seem to go on endlessly and ask questions nobody who thinks for a living can answer?

Yeah, don’t do that.

Make your survey as simple as possible.

There may be occasions when you want to ask yes/no or multiple choice questions, but for an all-purpose survey, I suggest you avoid the laundry list of options and ask a few open-ended questions.

Tailor it for your practice area and market, but here’s what you want to know:

  1. What am I doing well?
  2. What could I improve?
  3. Do you have any suggestions (additional services, changes, etc)?
  4. Would you recommend us to your friends? Why?
  5. Additional comments:

Leave two or three blank lines after each question, so they know they’re supposed to write something.

Precede this with a sentence or two explaining that their feedback is important to you and you would appreciate their help in filling out this brief survey. Tell them what to do after they’ve filled it out, i.e., how to get it to you. Make this easy to do.

After the questions, say thank you, and mention how their responses help you do a better job for all of your clients.

And that’s about all you need.

Most won’t fill it out. That’s okay. You want to hear from clients who think something is wrong, you want to know if anyone has suggestions, and you want to hear from the clients who love you.

If you want to increase response, you might hold a monthly drawing. Everyone who fills out the form is entered and has a chance to win a $20 gift card.

Contact everyone who response and thank them again. Tell them again that you appreciate their taking the time to answer. Address their concerns, consider their suggestions, and when they give you praise, ask permission to use their comments as a testimonial.

So, what do you think? Did you like this post? Did I miss something? Do you have any suggestions?

No gift card, but if you have something you want to tell me, I’d love to hear it.

Do your clients ever complain? Good!

Amazon delivered my new mechanical keyboard and mouse. Everything is good. I’m a happy camper.

I got an email from the company that fulfilled the order for the mouse. Did everything arrive in good shape? Any issues?

They provided me with a link where I could give feedback, report issues, and provide a review.

Did I click the link and tell them I was happy? Did I leave a review?

I did not.

Sorry, busy here. I’ve got a blog post to write.

The thing is, when everything is okay, your clients won’t tell you, either. Even when you ask them to and make it easy, like this email.

If something is wrong, on the other hand, you’re going to hear about it, right? You’ll get an earful from the client and a bad review on Yelp.

Not necessarily.

Unless things are really bad, most dissatisfied clients quietly go away, never to hire you again. They don’t complain, they just leave.

But you want them to complain. If they are dissatisfied with your work, if they think you offended them, you want to know about it, so you can fix the problem and make amends.

You need to ask for their feedback, not once, but continually.

Through email, online surveys, and especially when you speak to them.

Encourage them to be open with you about everything. Let them know you won’t be hurt if they aren’t happy about something, you’ll be glad they told you so you can do something about it.

Tell them that they are doing you (and all of your other clients) a favor by being honest with you, because they are.

Ask your clients for feedback, and ask often. Put a link in every email. Give them a form every time they come into the office. Bring up the subject when you have them on the phone.

Let your clients be your “quality assurance” department. You’ll find out about problems so you can fix them, and. . . you’ll also get more testimonials.

It’s all about keeping your clients happy

Nobody would argue that keeping your clients happy isn’t vital. Clearly, it is the genesis for repeat business, referrals, and getting paid on time. But is keeping your clients happy paramount?

No. Keeping your employees happy is more important.

If you don’t keep your employees happy, you can forget about keeping your clients happy.

By the same logic, keeping yourself happy is more important than keeping clients happy. If you’re not happy, you won’t be much good to anyone else.

In response to yesterday’s post about not negotiating fees, a personal injury lawyer wrote and said he disagreed. “It’s all about keeping your clients happy, so they will return and refer,” he said.

Yes, smother your clients with love and attention. Remind them often about how much you appreciate them and want to help them. But just as a parent doesn’t need to buy his kid a pair of $300 sneakers when he asks for them, lawyers don’t need to buy our clients’ love by agreeing to cut our fees.

I showed my clients I cared about them by taking cases with questionable liability and negligible damages. I showed them that I was on their side and would fight for them when they asked for my help, even when I thought we would probably lose the case, and even if we won, I knew I wouldn’t earn much of a fee.

I also waived my fee on many cases, or cut it voluntarily. When it’s your idea, you are a hero. When the client asks (or insists), you’re just a commodity.

So be generous with your clients. But do it because you choose to do it, not because you might lose them if you don’t.

The writer also said he doesn’t think his other clients know when he cuts his fee for a client who asks him to.

Question: What happens when client A (who got a discount) refers client B? Does he offer the same discount to client B? If he doesn’t, what happens when the new client finds out that you charged his friend less?

And what happens when client A returns with another case? Does he get the discount on that, too?

Cutting fees is a slippery slope. I know. I once had an office in a market where all of the PI lawyers ran dueling ads promising increasingly lower contingency fees. You charge one-third, the next guy says he’ll take the case for 25%, three more lawyers advertise 20%.

When it got down into the 8-10% range, I’d had enough and closed that office.

With low overhead and high volume, I was still making a profit. But I wasn’t happy.

For more, see The Attorney Marketing Formula and Getting the Check

How to select more profitable cases and clients

A subscriber asked for my thoughts on how to select, “more meritorious and profitable cases and eliminate smaller cases or “junk” that takes far too much time in proportion to profit potential.”

I thought he was talking about contingency fee cases but when I went to his website I saw that he handles everything but. It’s a general practice, handling everything from divorce to banking to foreclosure, construction law, even appellate work, but no personal injury or anything tort related that I can see.

Unless I’m missing something, as long as they get a retainer fee, they get paid. Even if the case isn’t that good.

So my oh-so-glib answer to the original question is, “Pick a number. Decide, in advance, that you won’t accept anything that won’t provide you with a minimum fee of X dollars.”

That’s easier to do when you charge flat fees instead of hourly, and that might be part of his challenge. If that’s so, and he wants to continue charging hourly, he might consider having a minimum fee, if this is ethically permitted. So, $400 per hour for that divorce case, with a minimum of $5000. Or whatever.

Okay, I realize it’s not always that simple. But I don’t know what else to say. Meet with your partners, pull out the spreadsheets, and see where you’re making money. Draw a line or two to demarcate the kinds of cases or clients you will focus on and the ones you will think twice about accepting or eliminate completely.

Before you make any final decisions, however, there’s something else to think about. It’s something I did in my practice and I recommend that you consider it in yours.

Think clients, not cases.

Essentially, that means you take the small stuff, even if it’s not terribly profitable, because you are serving the client who will have other matters for you, stick with your firm long term, send you referrals, and otherwise help your practice grow.

The lifetime value of those clients, and the collective fees earned from them, is many times what you might (or might not) earn on one particular matter.

If you don’t have those kinds of clients, or enough of them, start weaning the firm away from clients with “one time” cases and focus on clients with lots of repeat work.

Think clients, not cases.