The value of building an exceptional client experience

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It takes a lot of effort to attract good clients. It takes even more effort to keep them happy.

Is it worth it?

All of the time, energy, and money it takes to treat clients “better than they have a right to expect” is one of the best investments you can make.

Here are a few reasons why:

  • Clients who receive exceptional service are far more likely to stick with you for the long term. Their lifetime value might be ten times what you earn on their first case or engagement.
  • Happy clients are easier to work with. They are less likely to cause problems, more likely to let you do your work.
  • They are more likely to be fee sensitive. You can charge more because you’re worth it, and your clients will usually pay on time.
  • Satisfied clients are willing to provide referrals. Clients who are thrilled with you go out of their way to find clients they can refer.
  • They promote your offers, share your content, and send traffic to your website.
  • And they provide testimonials and positive reviews.

As a practicing professional, you can do the minimum required to satisfy your clients or you can consistently look for ways to do more.

Most lawyers go for the first option, giving you the opportunity to stand out from the rest and build an incredibly successful, profitable and satisfying practice.

So, you tell me, is it worth it?

How to (easily) get more referrals from your clients

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What do your clients want from you?

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You know your clients want you to treat them well, charge reasonable fees, and keep them informed about the progress of their case.

But do you have this in writing?

I’m talking about a “pledge” or a “Client’s Bill of Rights”–something to show clients and prospects, and for you and your staff to commit to and follow.

Start by writing internal guidelines and objectives, for you and your staff. For example, you want your clients to feel welcome and appreciated and to know you are committed to doing your best to help them.

Then, write down things you know your clients want. Here are few ideas to get you started:

  • To know in advance how much they be charged
  • To be assured that everything they tell you is confidential
  • To get copies of everything that comes in or goes out (without being charged extra)
  • To be told what they can do to help you do a better job for them
  • What you will do first
  • To receive an estimate of how long things will take and an explanation of the factors that influence them
  • To not get billed for a quick call to you or from you
  • What happens if. . .
  • What happens when. . .
  • How often they will receive a bill
  • Retainer agreements and other documents that are easy to read and understand
  • Where to get additional information

As you flesh out your list, consider:

  • What prospective clients will see on your website, how they will be treated when they contact your office and when they speak with you.
  • What new clients will be told, what they will get, and how they will be treated.
  • What clients will be told at the end of their case, what you will give them, and what they should do if they have additional questions, need updates or additional services, and how to make a referral.

Make sure to customize your list to your specific practice areas, niche markets, and ideal clients.

Start your list by writing down whatever comes to mind. Ask your staff to contribute ideas. Talk to or survey your clients.

And, once you have a list, put it on your website.

Doing this will keep you focused on serving your clients and treating them the way they want to be treated. It will keep you from forgetting to do what you know you should do, and stimulate you to continually do better.

It will also help you build your practice with happy clients who tell everyone how great you are.

Marketing is easier when you know The Formula

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Why some clients think their attorney is a cold bastard

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Listening is one of the most important skills for an attorney. Too often, an attorney will hear what the client or other person said, decide they understand their point, and immediately start formulating their response.

They may be right in their assessment, but one of the most important parts of listening is showing the other person you are.

When a client thinks you’re not listening, they think you don’t care about them or their case, or you’re not good at your job. Either way, they think less of you.

Effective listening isn’t passive listening, however. Just being quiet isn’t enough. The client needs to know that you not only hear them, you understand them.

A few Do’s and Don’ts.

  • DON’T do other things during the conversation (other than taking notes). If you can’t give the other person your undivided attention, because you’re late for a meeting, for example, explain this and re-schedule.
  • DO make eye contact. Nothing says “I don’t care about you” more than avoiding the other person’s gaze. (I’ve seen professionals do this more than once; it’s unnerving).
  • Ask questions, to clarify and amplify what happened, what they think about it, and what they want.
  • Acknowledge and validate their feelings, based on what they say and how they appear. “I can see you’re frustrated/angry. . .”, “I can see why that would be a problem. . .” , “I’d feel the same way if I were in your shoes”.
  • Repeat it back to them. A great way to clarify what they’re saying is to repeat it. “What you’re saying is. . . right?” “Let me make sure I understand what happened. . .”, “So you want your investment back and a public apology, right?”
  • “Is there anything else?” Don’t assume they’ve told you everything. Continue to prompt them to tell you more, until there’s nothing left to tell.

Yeah, I know, some of this is just good lawyering skills, but it doesn’t hurt to have a refresher.

It also doesn’t hurt to hear how you sound from the client’s perspective, so record the conversation and play it back, latter, over a stiff drink.

If you have the client’s permission, play the recording for someone you trust to give you an honest assessment of your listening skills.

Something else:

It’s also important to show people you’re listening when you reply to their email, letter, or text. But that’s a subject for another day.

Good client relations leads to repeat business and referrals

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Are you essential?

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There are two kinds of attorneys in the world. The first is transactional. A client pays a fee for his or her services, with the hope and expectation of getting a positive outcome.

The attorney may be good at what they do. They may even be great. Their clients may depend on them, trust them, and continually look to them for help, but this doesn’t mean they are essential.

Because they can be replaced.

The second kind of attorney is, relatively speaking, irreplaceable. Their clients depend on them not just for their legal work but for everything else they do for them.

What do I mean? I mean for the things they do that go beyond their core legal services.

A business client may depend on his attorney for introductions, recommendations, and referrals. The client may look to the attorney for information about their industry or market, or depend on the attorney’s wisdom and guidance in building their company.

A consumer client may depend on their attorney for referrals to other professionals and businesses they can trust. They may look to their attorney for guidance on refinancing their home, managing their investments, improving their credit, or protecting their identity.

Today, more than ever, your clients want more from you. They want to see your steadiness and hear your reassurances. They want to see that you are calm, cool, and collected, in a world that is anything but.

When they’re upset or confused, they need to hear your voice or read something you wrote, telling them that everything is going to be okay.

They might not need your legal services for a long time, but they need to know that you will be there when they do, and that they have your friendship and support and can turn to you at any time for just about anything.

When your clients know they can count on you to help them, advise them, support them, and even comfort them, in ways that other attorneys can’t (or don’t), that’s when you become essential.

For ideas on how to help your clients beyond your core legal services, go here

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What to say to a client who asks for a free service

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It happens to every attorney. Clients ask for a lower fee or a free service. It’s not a big deal but how you handle it might be. Here are some of my thoughts.

First, the best way to handle this is to avoid it in the first place. Create a clear statement of your fee and billing policies and give a copy to every new client.

Second, when someone (inevitably) asks, be nice about it. Don’t embarrass them, tell them you understand why they’re asking, you’re sympathetic to their situation, you’d like to accommodate them, and you’ll see if you can work something out.

No matter what you say after that, they’ll see that you respect them and considered their request.

Third, focus on value, not cost. Make sure the client understands the value of what you do and, ideally, that it is worth more to them than what they pay.

Show them what might happen if they didn’t hire you, and why they get more value than they would get from other attorneys.

Fifth, don’t make it about you. Frame your response in terms of “the firm” or “our practice,” instead of you. Use phrases like, “the value of our services” (even if you’re a sole practitioner), and say “we” instead of “I”.

Even better, frame it in terms of the client. “The value you get,” or speak broadly–“Our clients tell us they appreciate. . .”.

Sixth, be firm but flexible. Providing discounts and free services tends to devalue what you do, so don’t do it as a matter of course. Instead, suggest a smaller engagement or offer to defer some of their bill.

If you want to give a client a break, make it clear that you’re making an exception and tell them why you’re doing it, e.g, they’ve been with you a long time or you realize they’re going through a tough time.

For more on fees and billing, get my book, “Get the Check“.

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It’s easier to keep your clients happy than to get new ones

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We hired a new gardener recently because our previous one didn’t show up, or call, or text. He’s missed days before, but always let us know, so we figured he’d flaked out and moved on to greener pastures.

Turns out he hadn’t.

We got a text from him yesterday, asking why we removed him from our gated community’s guest list. “Is there a problem? Did I do something wrong?”

We filled him in. He got angry. But didn’t explain why he didn’t show up, contact us, or respond to our numerous texts.

So, he lost our account, and the tree-trimming gig he was booked to do later this month. We know he needs the money because he continually nickled-and-dimed us about everything, and because he mentioned needing the money in his last text.

We have needs, too. We need to know that our yard is being taken care of by someone we can count on.

Maybe he’ll learn a lesson from this. Maybe he’ll realize how important it is to take care of your customers, and that it’s easier to do that than to find new ones.

Hey, I hear a lawnmower outside. Guess out new gardener is here. Right on time. Just like he promised.

Marketing is everything you do to get and keep good clients

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Keeping clients

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My wife called to cancel a service we no longer need. After a few questions, the girl who answered the phone turned the call over to her manager.

He asked more questions. Were we unhappy with the service, did the rep do something wrong, is there anything the company could do to get us to stay, how about a free month of service?

Normal questions.

When we didn’t bite, the manager played the guilt card. He pointed out that the rep would suffer financially from our departure.

If that’s part of the script, they need a new script. Even if that strategy works, it leaves a bad taste in the mouth.

I’m guessing they’re getting a lot of cancellations right now and they’re feeling the pinch.

Anyway, the experience reminded me to remind you that having a retention strategy in place is important for lawyers.

When a client calls to tell you they’re leaving or they’re unhappy with something or they want you to stop working on their case, you should be prepared to ask questions, put out fires, and keep them on board.

And be prepared to work things out with them when they say (or it appears) they can’t afford to continue.

Think it through, write it out, spitball it with your team, and make sure everyone is trained on what to say and do.

Because it’s going to happen.

But, here’s the thing. There’s only so much you can say or do and only so many clients will stay.

That’s life.

What you can do is prepare their exit for their eventual return and for referrals.

Tell them you understand, accommodate their needs, apologize if appropriate, tell them they’re welcome back if their situation changes, and wish them well.

And whatever you do, don’t play the guilt card.

How to get former clients to send you referrals

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I don’t like your attitude, bub

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My wife and I went out for a ride yesterday. It was a beautiful day and we enjoyed getting out of the house. We drove towards the beach and went to a grocery store to pick up a few things for dinner.

Outside the store was a young lady wearing a mask and offering to disinfect shopper’s carts. She greeted us warmly. On our way out of the store, she told us to have a nice afternoon.

On our way home, we remembered something we needed and stopped at another grocery store.

My wife stayed in the car while I walked up to the store. In front was an older man with a similar disinfectant set-up as the first store.

But this guy wasn’t friendly. He didn’t greet me.

As I walked up to the store, he said, “Do you have a mask? You can’t come in here without a mask.”

I had a mask in my pocket. I brought it with me just in case we went someplace that required it.

Like this store.

I could have put on the mask but I didn’t. There was something about the way this guy said what he said that rankled me. He was scolding me and I didn’t like it.

I didn’t complain, I simply turned around and walked back to my car.

The store lost my business yesterday.

Anyway, this isn’t about whether or not your establishment has a mask policy.

It’s about the subtle messages you send to your customers or clients that may push them away from you when you should be doing just the opposite.

It’s about lightening up a bit, and going out of your way to brighten their day, especially now when everyone seems to be on edge.

They say people make up their minds about you within 4 seconds of meeting you. Given my experience yesterday, I’d say that’s about right.

When you’re ready for your practice to take a quantum leap

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I’ve got good news and bad news

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Have you ever asked a client, “Which do you want first, the good news or the bad news?”

You might want to stop asking.

It turns out it’s better to give the bad news first and finish with the good news. According to research, people remember an experience more favorably when you finish the conversation on a positive note.

Psychologically, we prefer experiences that improve over time.

So, give clients the bad news first.

It works the same for you.

When you have to deliver bad news to a client, schedule them early in the day. That way, your day will end on a positive note.

Get the hard stuff out of the way so you can end the day on a high note.

I love it when a plan comes together.

How to get referrals without asking for referrals

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How are you doing?

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I haven’t connected with you in a while and thought I’d check in and see how you’re doing.

Or something like that.

Go through your phone or your email and contact your clients and other people you know. Say hello. Share a positive thought. Let them know you’re thinking about them.

It’s called networking and it’s a good idea on any day but especially today, when the world is on lock down and everyone is going a bit stir crazy.

And yes, you can do this with business contacts.

Remember opposing counsel on that case you had last year? That vendor you met at a conference? The web guy you hired a few years ago?

Them, too.

Ask about their work or ask them about a colleague you both know or ask them how they’re holding up.

What you say isn’t really that important. What’s important is that you show up in their in box.

Your words will be appreciated and, no doubt, reciprocated. Sometimes, your message will lead to a phone call or a video chat. You might learn something interesting or valuable.

You will keep your name in front of people who haven’t thought about you in a long time. You’ll strengthen your relationships with others.

Will this bring you repeat business? Referrals?

It might.

But don’t do it for that reason. Do it because it makes you feel good to brighten someone’s day.

How to get referrals from lawyers and other professionals

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