I thought that was included

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I trust that most of your clients would describe themselves as “satisfied”. You want them to be thrilled (and let everyone know that), but you’ll settle for satisfied.

Because it’s so easy for a client to be just the opposite.

It happens when you don’t do something they thought you were going to do or you charged extra for something they thought was included.

If you read negative reviews posted about lawyers, after “not keeping me informed” or “didn’t return my calls” and the like, numero uno is a variation of not getting what they expected.

Of course, it’s never their fault. It’s your fault and the world shall know it.

That’s why you have to go out of your way to CYA. Not just to protect against bar complaints or lawsuits, but to make sure your clients know exactly what they get (and don’t get) so you have a shot at keeping them happy.

Especially when it comes to money. Especially because clients are stressed out. Especially because so many clients don’t trust lawyers.

You can’t just slide the retainer agreement across the desk and hope they sign it without reading it. You need to explain everything, slowly and in plain English. Give them a list of FAQs that spell out exactly what you will do and when, and what you won’t do and why.

Ask them to acknowledge that they understand everything. Asking them to initial lots of things is also a good idea.

Maybe give them a three-day cooling off period.

Because if it’s possible to misunderstand something, your clients will find a way to do it. And blame you.

Marketing 101: keep your clients happy

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Do you charge for “micro advice”?

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Many business attorneys won’t talk to a client without the meter running. So many clients don’t call their attorney before they make important decisions, often to their detriment.

The client then has to pay the attorney to fix their mess, often a lot more than they would have paid had they gotten advice in advance.

In the short term, the attorney makes out. In the long run, maybe there’s a better way for both client and attorney.

What if attorneys let their clients know they won’t charge them for “micro advice”? A quick call to find out if they’re going in the right direction, a question or two to see if they do (or don’t) need something else?

I heard that’s what many smart business attorneys do.

I concur.

You want your clients to call you often and they’re more likely to do that if they know they won’t be charged by the nanosecond. Maybe they have something that needs your help, maybe they don’t, but it’s better for both of you to find out.

How is this better for you? For one thing, it builds trust. The client sees that you’re looking out for them, not just sucking them dry.

It can also lead to more work for you. In the short term, if they need your help, you’ll be able to show them why. In the long run, by looking out for your clients, you help their business grow and you can grow with them.

Yes, some clients will (try to) take advantage of you. You will have some line drawing to do. But most clients will appreciate you for “not being like all those other attorneys”. You’ll earn their loyalty and their referrals.

This isn’t just for business attorneys. It’s a good policy for all clients. Even one-off clients can send referrals.

Referrals are good for your fiscal health

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You can’t win them all (but let them know you tried)

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It happens. You do everything for a client, bending over backward to serve him and get the results he wants. If those results aren’t forthcoming, however, or things don’t happen quickly enough, the client may blame you.

And fire you.

That’s what happened to an attorney who wrote and shared his tale of woe.

He had a client complain about “zero results”. He said the attorney did nothing for him, even though he had done everything that could be done.

The client said the attorney was wasting time to “rack up fees,” even though the client was paying an agreed upon flat fee.

“How do you make clients [understand and appreciate] what you’re doing for them?” the attorney asked.

In this client’s case, nothing. He’s a bad egg. Nothing but trouble since day one.

But while all clients want results, if those results aren’t forthcoming, or take too long to achieve, most clients appreciate their attorney’s efforts or their behalf, if they are made aware of it.

Job one is to make them aware of it.

At the beginning, you spell out everything that is about to happen. You tell them (orally and in writing), exactly what you will be doing, when, and why.

Why A instead of B? Why next month instead of immediately?

You tell them about possible delays, contingencies, and problems. You also tell them what you will do if and when those issues occur.

You tell them stories of clients who had successful outcomes despite delays, contingencies, and problems. You provide testimonials from clients who watched you shed blood, sweat, and tears for them and loved you for it, even if things didn’t turn out they want they wanted.

You send copies of everything, of course, and update them frequently. Weekly is not too often. Even if “nothing” happened, let them know that you’re still on the job.

You report everything you have done, everything the opposition has done, and what you plan to do next.

You bring them into your head so they can see and hear what you see and hear and understand why you do what you do.

And you get their okay every step of the way.

No, you don’t let them manage the case. You encourage them to provide feedback and ask questions and you show patience when they do.

Sounds like raising a child, doesn’t it? Yeah, that’s pretty much what it is.

The difference is that you can fire a client, and in this case, that’s exactly what you should do.

Client relations 101

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Some attorneys are their own worst enemy

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You’ve heard me say it before: to build a successful practice, with lots of repeat business and referrals, you should focus on clients, not cases.

Don’t look at what a single matter is worth to you. Look at what the client can bring you over their lifetime or the lifetime of their business.

The initial case might be small. You might earn a negligible fee. Sometimes, you might not earn anything. But if you focus on treating every client like they are worth a fortune to you, eventually, some of them will be.

The guy who has a fender bender today could have a catastrophic injury next year. The small startup that can barely afford to talk to you today could become your biggest client in a couple of years.

And every one of them can send you referrals, send traffic to your website, say nice things about you on social media, and tell their friends or contacts about your upcoming event.

Clearly, this doesn’t mean you can give every client the same amount of attention. Your best clients should get more of your personal time. See them, talk to them on the phone, build a relationship with them that goes beyond the work.

The rest of your clients should be nurtured with email, letters, and calls from your staff.

Whatever you do, don’t be like some attorneys who believe that doing a good job for their clients is all they have to do. They don’t understand that clients come back not just because you did a good job but because of how you made them feel.

How to get clients to send referrals

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One size does not fit all

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Your marketing has a personality. A style. In part, it is comprised of what you say to prospective clients and how you say it, but also things you don’t say because you presume prospective clients already know it.

That’s a dangerous presumption because not all clients are alike.

Some clients have a lot of experience dealing with legal issues and hiring lawyers. Others don’t. Some clients have deep pockets and understand how lawyers’ bill. Others have to dig deep to pay you and have trouble understanding why you charge $400 per hour when they earn only $25.

You have to understand these differences, and others, and groom your marketing and client relations playbook for each type of client. You need different content, different language, and different levels of hand holding.

You shouldn’t expect your clients to completely adapt to you and your ways; they are the client, you serve them, and you must be prepared to adapt to theirs.

“Know thy client,” I’m sure someone wise once said, and it’s good advice. It will help you attract good clients who will like you and trust you and hire you again, because they know that you understand them and care about making them happy.

Study your clients–their backgrounds, their industries, their cultures and personal lives. What do they know? What do they want? What are they afraid of?

Because one size does not fit all.

This will help

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The one thing that’s more important than a good first impression

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You’re meeting a new client. You smile, shake hands, and do your best to make them feel welcome. You know they’re nervous, uncomfortable about the money they have to pay, and unsure if they can trust you. You want to make their first impression of you a good one.

Because it is.

But there’s something more important, in my humble but accurate opinion. Their last impression.

After the meeting, when you stand up and walk them to the door, those final 30 seconds or so create the impression they take away with them.

Make it a good one.

Sum up what you’re going to do. Assure them that things will be okay. Shake hands again. Look them in the eyes again. Let them hear the sincerity in your voice.

If possible and appropriate, lighten their burden by saying something whimsical or pithy. If you don’t have anything in your repertoire, don’t try to come up with something on the spot.

Tell them again how and when to contact you, and when you will contact them next.

This is not the time to thank them for hiring you. This is the time to make them feel glad that they did.

How to make clients trust you

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A cost of doing business that pays for itself

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You have overhead. And discretionary expenses. Rent, wages, payroll taxes, equipment, advertising, and everything else, and each has it’s own category in your expense ledger.

Everything except one. Customer service.

Customer service should have its own expense category because it is clearly a cost of doing business and it should be accounted for.

The things you do for your clients–to deliver value, to give them a good experience with your firm, to “take care of them” and make them glad they hired you–has a cost.

Some money and a lot of time.

Money spent on overnighting copies at your expense, remembering birthdays and holidays, and providing extra services free of charge.

Time spent talking to clients about non-billable matters and explaining things you’ve already explained, to make sure the client understands. Time spent training and supervising your staff, to make sure they know why taking care of clients is good for business and so they are well equipped to do it.

There’s also time spent on personal development, to develop the habits and skills that make you better at serving your clients.

Add it all up and it’s a big number. Or it should be because it is a key factor in the success of your practice.

The more you give your clients, the better you care for them, the bigger your practice will grow. Clients who feel respected and appreciated are clients who hire you again and again and sing your praises to others.

Customer service also cuts down on problems. Clients who are well informed and regularly updated, for example, are less likely to call you again or complain to you and to the Bar.

Sometimes, customer service means giving clients the benefit of the doubt when they want more from you than they paid for. Sometimes it means cutting your fee or issuing a refund.

That doesn’t mean you should allow yourself to be taken advantage of or put up with abuse. It means understanding the lifetime value of a client and being willing to sacrifice a dollar today to earn $1000 long term.

Customer service is a cost of doing business. But it more than pays for itself.

Henry Ford said, “A business absolutely devoted to service will have only one worry about profits. They will be embarrassingly large.”

Your goal is to earn more income. One of the best ways to do that is to invest in your clients.

The Attorney Marketing Formula is here

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Suck it up, buttercup

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My wife needs a new chair for her office. Last night, we stopped at our local Staples, which is having a sale on office chairs, and she found one she liked. I had a $30 coupon in my pocket which was for phone and online orders. The plan was to find a chair she wanted, go home, and order it.

Eduardo came over and asked if he could help. I asked him if I could use my coupon if the chair we wanted was already on sale. He said he wasn’t sure but would go ask his manager.

He came back with good news. Not only could we use the coupon, we could buy the chair in the store and take it home with us. His manager would override the “online” code and make it happen.

Nice.

Eduardo rang us up. He called his manager over to handle the override. The manager came, clicked some buttons, and the deal was done.

On our way home, my wife and I compared notes about the manager’s attitude. Whereas Eduardo was friendly and helpful, the manager was a walking corpse.

He didn’t say anything–no “have a nice evening,” “enjoy your new chair,” or “thank you for shopping at Staples.” No smile, no eye contact. Nothing. He clicked some keys, threw the used coupon in the trash, and turned to walk back to wherever managers hide out.

As he walked away, I said, “Thank you for your help”. He half-turned back to me, mumbled something, and continued his retreat.

So, what’s the problem? The problem is, he didn’t do his job. If I was his district manager, I would have fired him on the spot.

His job isn’t just to approve coupons. His job is to foster a pleasant customer experience. Make customers feel welcome, appreciated, and glad we chose to spend our dollars with them instead of anywhere else.

It’s the most important part of his job and he didn’t do it.

Maybe he was ill. Maybe his wife just left him. Maybe he hates his job and his life.

So what? When you show up to work, you leave your problems in your car and do your job.

You do your job even if you don’t feel like it. If you have serious issues, stay home. Take a few days off. Do what you have to do, but don’t bring your problems to work.

Nobody cares about your problems. Everyone has problems of their own. Suck it up and do your job. If you can’t do that, go work somewhere else.

As employers, we know that everyone can have a bad day. Hell, we have them ourselves. But nobody should be allowed to let their problems get in the way of our job.

How to use your website to make your phone ring

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Looking for a Christmas gift for your clients?

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What do you get the client who has everything? A book, that’s what you get.

Books make a great gift for anyone on your list because they provide value beyond their modest cost.

If you know a client or contact’s reading preferences, you can choose something special for them. Otherwise, choose a non-fiction business, financial, productivity, or self-help book that is likely to appeal across the board. Or one book for business clients and professional contacts, another for consumers.

The best choice is a book you’ve read and recommend. Perhaps something you found useful in your practice. You can add your comments or “review” to a card that accompanies it or post the review on your website and give clients the link.

You don’t have to give books to everyone on your list. Some clients might get a card. Some might get a $25 book, while others get something priced under $10.

You can have Amazon do the fulfillment for you. Or you can buy in bulk, save a few bucks, and mail the books yourself with a hand-written note.

If your clients don’t read, or they’ve already read the book you buy for them, they can give it to someone else. They’ll appreciate the fact that you thought of them and sent them something you like and recommend, rather than just a card.

Any attorneys on your list? I’ve got some books and courses available that make great gifts. Especially when you personally recommend them.

Books and courses for attorneys

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Antici. . . pation

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I’m excited! I just got a text telling me the storage rack I ordered Saturday night will be delivered today before 8 pm. But I know better. I’ve been tracking the package and know it’s at our local post office right now so I’m pretty sure it will get here this afternoon.

Don’t laugh. My wife does most of the shopping around here so when I get a chance to buy something for my office, I get excited. Even if it’s just a rack to hold some stuff. (You should see me when I’m waiting for a new laptop to be delivered.)

Anyway, I do have a point. The point is that we all need to be aware of how our clients feel when working with us, or more accurately, how they want to feel. We need to know this so we can we can help them get a taste of those feelings before they hire us.

If you handle adoptions, you know your clients get excited when they hear good news from you. They wait by the phone, anticipating your call. In your conversations with prospective clients, in your articles and blog posts, in your marketing documents, you’ll want to talk about what that’s like and share how you feel being able to help people experience one of the happiest days of their lives.

If you handle criminal defense, you know the sense of relief your clients experience when you’re able to tell them that some or all of the counts against them have been dismissed. On your website, blog, videos, or podcast, you’ll want to describe the relief your clients feel when you’re able to deliver that kind of news.

If you handle business transactions or estate planning, you know that your clients enjoy peace of mind and a sense of pride about getting their paperwork done and their business or loved ones protected. That should be the central theme in your marketing.

Give some thought to what your clients want to feel as a result of hiring you. It’s never about the paperwork, the settlement, or the outcome, ultimately, it’s about how they want to feel.

Figure out what those feelings are. Then, do what you have to do to make sure they experience them.

Happy clients are referring clients. Here’s how to make it so

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