Yikes, found this on Yelp

We were looking for a roofer and had several bids. Before we chose, my wife looked at reviews for the candidates.

One roofer who was in the running had mostly excellent reviews. But one review stood out, which I’ve edited slightly to protect the guilty:

“[The owner] wouldn’t even go on top of the roof to take a look, making excuses that it’s a 3-story building and that ladders are heavy. He then proceeded to quote me for a repair, which I called him on for not even going to the roof to take a look. I’ve never seen anyone look so dumbfounded, like I was just supposed to roll with it?”

Okay, an issue. But something that could be fixed, right?

The owner of the company didn’t try to fix it, however. Instead, he posted this response:

“Wow, what a cheap shot coming from a loser that can’t even take a verbal roof quote, let alone pull the trigger and get it fixed. What would make you think I owe it to you. You got a simple quote with a guarantee. . . to fix 1 simple leak. . . But then again, what would you know about maintaining a roof, you’re just a Big Crybaby.”

Needless to say, we crossed this roofer off our list.

His response is practically a master class in how NOT to respond to a bad review. How many jobs has he lost, and will continue to lose, because of it?

I have long said the best way to handle a bad review is to ignore it. Let the weight of the good reviews “bury” the stinkers.

Given the current state of “the world,” today I think I would revise that and admit that there are times when you simply have to respond.

I’m not going to give you any guidelines about when you should or shouldn’t do that, however. I’ll wimp out and simply say, “it depends.”

But I will say that if there is a review you believe needs a response, you probably shouldn’t do it yourself.

Have someone respond on your behalf. (No, not your lawyer.) Someone in your office who will remain calm, cool, and collected and make you look good.

Someone who won’t sound defensive or argumentative or make excuses.

Someone who will provide a thoughtful and caring response, apologize if appropriate, offer to make things right, and then invite the client to continue “the conversation” in private.

So it doesn’t turn into an online battle, and so you can indeed make it right.

You may not be able to placate every unhappy reviewer, but you can show the world that you tried.

Client relations made simple

Making sure the client understands

The only thing worse than explaining something to a client and finding out he didn’t understand you is not finding out.

You talked, they listened, but they lost you somewhere along the way.

If they let you know, you can repeat what you said or explain it further. But if they don’t tell you and find out later they misunderstood, what happens?

Bad Times at Ridgemont High, that’s what happens.

And they blame you. Even if you did a great job of explaining and they didn’t listen.

They might have been thinking about what you said just before this. Or worried about their legal situation. Or thinking about what they have to pick up at the market on the way home.

It doesn’t matter why they didn’t understand, you have to make sure they do, for their sake and for yours.

Especially if it is a complex issue or an important decision.

How do you do that? Besides putting it in writing and asking them to sign off?

You ask them to repeat back to you what you just told them.

Have them restate what you said and tell you that’s what they understood. Ask if they have any questions before you continue.

Hold on. You also need to do this when they say something.

Restate what you heard and ask them to agree that this is what they meant.

Then you can put it in writing.

Happy clients bring repeat business and referrals

How I annoy my wife

I saw this subject line in my email inbox today and I had to have it. I thought I’d add it to my list of headlines and subject lines and ideas and use it someday.

Hey, why not today?

And why not write this without reading the other guy’s email?

No peaking. Write your own damn email.

Actually, I get a lot of writing ideas from the emails in my inbox and suggest you do the same. But today, I thought I would challenge myself to write this with nothing to go on but the subject line.

So, how do I my wife? Let me count the ways. . .

I’ve been married a long time. If my wife wrote this, I’m sure she would have a long list. I thought about letting her write a “guest post” but realized I’d have to untie her and feed her and I’ve got a busy day.

And, there you go. The first thing that annoys my wife (I know she would say) is my warped sense of humor.

Sometimes silly, sometimes stupid, often inappropriate.

I get a lot of groans. And I am often reminded that I’m repeating something my grandfather used to say decades ago and, oh yeah, it wasn’t funny then, either.

But, I make her laugh often enough that she hasn’t left me. Or poisoned me.

(I can’t stop.)

Another thing I do that annoys her is talking incessantly about an idea or a project I’m planning, to the point where she (rightly so) tells me, effectively, to [do it] or get off the pot.

Okay, that’s all I’m going to fess up to. Now, would you like to know how she annoys me?

Yeah, right. Remember, I’ve been married a long time. That didn’t happen with me telling tales about things my wife does that annoy me.

Not that there are any.

So, forget that. It’s your turn.

But I don’t want to know how you annoy your spouse, I want to know how you annoy your clients.

What do you do that irritates them?

Ask yourself. Ask your staff. Ask your spouse. (Trust me, they know, even if they never come to your office.)

And ask your clients.

You probably have a few close clients you can talk to. Encourage them to be honest with you. Or, send out a survey and allow them to respond anonymously.

Because it’s important to know these things, so you can clean up your act.

Because you don’t want your clients to leave you. Or poison you.

Need more ideas for your newsletter?

Small and frequent

If you play online games, you know the developers of those games tend to reward you with tokens and banners and prizes of some sort. They give you small rewards frequently, rather than a big reward less often.

And you like it that way.

Each time you get something–a prize or acknowledgment of your progress–you get a small hit of dopamine. It feels good. The more often that hit is triggered, the more likely you are to continue to play that game.

You like getting to the next level in the game. You like the anticipation and the sense of accomplishment. You keep playing because there is always a next level.

But you also like it when the app gives you something unexpected.

If you don’t play online games, you may find other ways to get small and frequent reinforcement in your life. Checking off done tasks on your todo list, for example.

Knowing this, you might want to do something similar with your clients and prospects.

That is, give them reasons to feel good about you and what you’re doing for them more often.

What could you do between the start of the case or engagement and the time you settle or present the deliverables?

What could send them? How could you engage them? How could you recognize or reward them?

Each time you call your clients or send them something, assuming you’re not delivering bad news, they get a hit of dopamine. In part, because you didn’t deliver bad news, but also because your communication reminds them that they made a good decision when they chose you as their attorney.

Put on your thinking cap and brainstorm ways to touch the lives of your clients more often. Do the same thing for your prospective clients and business contacts.

A good place to start is with information. Instead of sending “everything” all at once, break it up into smaller pieces and send them more often.

Don’t make clients wait until the end of the case to hear from you. Don’t make prospective clients wait weeks or months to hear from you.

Contact your clients and prospects more often. You’ll probably find them getting hooked on you.

A simple way to connect is with an email newsletter

Haters gonna hate

Surprise: not everyone loves you. Truth be told, many people don’t like you at all.

Because you’re a lawyer.

And they don’t like lawyers. Never have, never will.

They think we’re corrupt. We lie, cheat, and steal as a matter of course. We’re greedy. We think we’re better than them.

Lawyers are evil. End of story.

And then there our clients. The ones who think we failed them or overcharged them or were mean to them. The ones who leave bad reviews, file complaints against us, and tell everyone they know to avoid us.

Yes, we’re in a tough business. Clients with stressful legal situations, a society that needs a scapegoat to blame for its ills, and, let’s face it–we’re not cheap.

So it’s easy to blame us and be jealous of us.

We shouldn’t be surprised when people talk bad about us or about our profession.

Because that’s never going to stop.

What can we do? We can ignore the haters. Don’t let their vitriol seep into your psyche.

Ignore them and focus on the people who appreciate you.

Many of your clients love you. They know you care about them and work hard for them. They trust you and will come back to you when they need you. They will tell their friends good things about you.

Focus on them.

And remember, when the haters need you, when their liberty or dignity or bank account is on the line, they’re going to call you and pay what you ask.

Because they need you.

Also remember that the best clients don’t begrudge what you earn. The best clients know you’re worth every penny.

You solve problems for them and help them achieve their goals and they gladly pay you to do that.

The best clients want their lawyers to be well-paid.

If you’d like to get more of those types of clients, then check out my video course on using leverage to grow your practice.

Breaking in new clients

I saw a post recently praising Scrivener, my favorite long-form writing app. The poster said, “The best tools get out of the craftsman’s way and make the job easier.”

True.

What’s also true is that the best clients get out of their lawyer’s way, making their job easier.

But not all clients do that.

As you undoubtedly know, a big source of friction between client and lawyer are disagreements about how the matter should be handled. Especially with a client who wants to micromanage their case.

Is there anything you can do to help your clients get out of your way and let you do your job?

Sure.

Have a heart-to-heart talk with new clients before you do the work.

Explain that they will make the big decisions but you need to be able to handle the day-to-day strategy and other things lawyers do. Explain why this is important and in their best interest. You might give them an example or two of previous engagements to illustrate.

While you’re at it, explain your policies about other things that tend to cause friction, like fees and billing and updates.

Tell them when updates will be provided, how billing is handled, how long things should take, and what to do when they have questions.

Get them to tell you they understand and agree.

Put these “agreements” in writing–in your retainer agreement or in a separate document that both of you date and sign. You can use a standard checklist and leave room to write in things specific to the case or client.

This won’t eliminate all points of friction but it should go a long way towards reducing them. And, if there’s a problem, you’ll have something in your file that can help resolve it.

Managing your (new) client’s expectations this way will also help you deliver a better experience for them.

If they’re expecting monthly updates, for example, and you provide them more often, or if they expect to be billed for something and you absorb the cost, you’ll have some happy campers.

Happy campers who get out of your way and make your job easier.

How to prepare an invoice that gets paid on time

I’ve got some bad news

It’s usually best to deliver bad news to a client by phone or in person, not by email or letter.

As I said in a previous post, “You can explain what happened, answer the client’s questions, discuss the options, and work together to find the path forward.”

Your tone of voice tells the client how you feel about the issue. He’ll hear your concern and appreciate that you personally called.

They may still be upset, but being able to talk to you will help.

Especially if you are responsible for the bad news.

Not only that, according to science, delivering bad news by email can make things worse because the words tend to linger long after you send them.

Sometimes, however, it’s okay to deliver bad news via email or letter. Announcing an across the board fee-increase would be an example.

But when it comes to managing your client’s experience, it isn’t necessarily the news that’s the issue, it’s what you say when you deliver the news.

Here are some guidelines:

  1. Don’t delay. You don’t want the client to find out from someone else or, in the case of a fee increase, when they receive their next bill. You don’t want to have to explain why you didn’t tell them right away.
  2. Be direct. Get to the point and tell them plainly what happened or what you’re doing. Don’t try to sugarcoat it.
  3. Put things in perspective. “Here’s what happened/will happen, here’s why, and here’s what this means going forward”
  4. Apologize (if it was your fault), explain (if it wasn’t).
  5. Empathize. Let them know that you feel bad or you understand how they must feel.
  6. Say thank you for their understanding, patience, cooperation and/or their allegiance.
  7. Let them know you are available if they have questions or want to talk.

And that’s it. Simple, direct, and personable. The way you’d like to be treated if the shoe was on the other foot.

Good client relations is the key to client referrals

What could possibly go wrong?

Last week, I reminded you to do something you already know you need to do: anticipate problems and nip them in the bud.

A checklist can help.

Make a list of all of the “points of interaction” your clients have with your office. This would include things like

  • What they see when they visit the home page of your website
  • What happens when they fill out a form
  • What happens when they call your office for the first time, e.g., what are they asked, what are they told
  • What happens at their first appointment, e.g., parking, in the waiting room, being shown to your office, questions asked, information supplied, forms to fill out, etc.
  • Emails, letters, and documents they get from you (and anything that accompanies it)
  • What happens when they call your office for an update or to ask a question
  • The process for delivering work product/final appointment
  • Follow-up calls and letters from you, e.g., reminders re updates, requests (referrals, reviews, Likes and Shares, etc.)

And so on.

Chart these and then, for each interaction, look for

  1. Things that could go wrong, and how you can fix them, and
  2. Ways to improve the client experience

You don’t have to go crazy with every detail; look for big things–the kinds of things that usually win hearts and minds or, conversely, result in complaints.

Things like

  • How long they have to wait (on hold, at an appointment, to receive something you promised
  • Being kept informed
  • How they are treated, e.g., you know their name/their case, they are shown respect and patience, etc.
  • What to expect, e.g., outcomes, fees/billing

Don’t rely on your own observations and sensibilities. Ask your employees to weigh in, and also ask your clients, through exit surveys and by continually asking for feedback.

What could possibly go wrong? Find out and nip it in the bud.

Good client relations brings repeat business and referrals

Nip it in the bud

I went to the dentist yesterday for a cleaning and exam but my dentist wasn’t there. He was on vacation in Hawaii.

“Didn’t they tell you?” my hygienist asked.

They (whoever that was) hadn’t, so no. And no exam.

Strike one: Not telling patients you’ll be out of town and giving them the option to re-schedule.

Strike two: I’d already paid for the exam, so now what? Go without it? Make another appointment and come back? What if something’s wrong and I won’t find out until the next exam in six months?

Strike three: No dentist in the office means the hygienists aren’t working “under the supervision of. . .” which may be a problem for the DDS but also for the patients because he’s not there to check their work.

Which leads to strike four:

My appointment was right after lunch and. . . the hygienist’s hands smelled like pot. Once I noticed this I also noticed she wasn’t as sharp as usual.

Did she do a good cleaning? Who knows? Nobody there to check her work.

I wondered if she does this all the time or just when the boss is out of town. I also wrestled with telling her, so she could clean up her act before someone reported her.

Okay. This wasn’t a typical experience and I didn’t make a fuss but the next patient might, which could cause problems for the dentist.

On the other hand, he needs to know what’s going on.

As a professional, you have to stay on top of everything that’s going on in your office.

Everything.

You have to anticipate problems and do something about them before they occur. You have to train and re-train your staff.

And, when you see a problem brewing, you need to step in and nip it in the bud (pot reference intended).

After my appointment, I got a text inviting me to fill out a survey about my appointment. It’s not anonymous so I hesitated.

Should I fill it out? Wait until the dentist gets back and talk to him privately? Or should I let it go because it’s not typical?

What would you do? What would you want your clients to do?

How to get more repeat business and referrals

How do I know I can trust you?

My wife and I visited a doctor once but our visit didn’t last long. The doctor came with all the right credentials and was highly recommended by peers and patients, but as soon as we met him, we didn’t trust him and left.

Why?

Because he wouldn’t look either of us in the eye.

He talked to the wall, to the bookcase, to the office door, but (it seemed), not to us. It was probably his way of coping with life-and-death situations but it was creepy, not the sort of thing you want in a professional.

Princeton researchers have found that people often decide on the trustworthiness of someone in as little as a tenth of a second, just by looking at their face. They draw similar conclusions about their likeability, attractiveness, competence, and other traits.

Much of these assessments are based on things you can’t change. For example, other studies have found that having more feminine facial features makes you appear more trustworthy.

You can’t change your face (without surgery) but you can change your behavior.

You can increase trust (and likeability) by shaking hands, smiling, listening without interrupting, and mirroring the other person’s body language.

And by looking at people when you talk to them.

So, here’s your assignment. For the next few days, pay attention to how you greet your clients. Take note of what you say and what you do.

You may find you’re doing something you’re not aware you’re doing and can correct it. No surgery required.

More ways to build trust