Small and frequent

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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

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Haters gonna hate

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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.

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Breaking in new clients

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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

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I’ve got some bad news

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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

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What could possibly go wrong?

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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

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Nip it in the bud

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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

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How do I know I can trust you?

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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

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Getting new clients started right

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When a client is unhappy with you, the odds are they won’t tell you about it. They’ll just leave, or leave and complain to everyone they know.

That’s not what you want.

You want clients who are unhappy–with your work or your “customer service,” or anything else–to tell you about it so you can fix it and make amends.

The best time to tell them about this is when you’re bringing them on board as a new client.

Tell them what to do if they have any issues, unanswered questions, or don’t know how to do something they’re supposed to do. Give them detailed instructions about what you’re going to do for them, about potential problems and delays, and about possible outcomes.

I’m sure you do this to some extent but there’s always room to improve. Sit down with your team and brainstorm what you can do to make the client experience better.

What else could you tell new clients? What could you say or do to instill confidence in you and empower your clients to help you do a better job for them?

A few ideas to get you started:

  • Answers to FAQs on a hidden page on your website
  • Periodic courtesy calls, to update the client, find out if they’re satisfied with everything so far, and answer questions
  • Instructions on how to reach you “after hours,” what to do if they have a question or concern, and how and where to provide a review
  • A video tour of the firm website, guiding the client to resources they might otherwise not know about
  • A time line or checklist about their case or matter: what happens next, what happens after that
  • Providing a sample billing statement with detailed explanations of the different elements
  • Providing a glossary of legal terms

New clients are often scared, confused, and not sure they can trust you. Do what you can to calm their fears, inform them about what to expect and what to do if they have any issues.

Show them that “you’ve done this before” and that you make keeping your clients happy a top priority.

You’ll both be glad that you did.

If you want help with brainstorming ideas or implementing them, let me know and we’ll schedule a consultation

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Thank you

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A prospective client hires you. You send them a welcome letter, thanking them for choosing you and assuring them you’ll do a good job for them.

Well done.

What about prospective clients who don’t hire you? Or who meet with you and haven’t yet decided to go forward? Do you send them anything, a thank you note for meeting with you and considering you?

You should.

Not only is it good manners, it is an easy way to show people your character and professionalism, and convey to the would-be client that you want to work with them.

Smart job candidates send a thank you note after their interview with a recruiter or hiring manager. When a prospective client meets with you, they’re interviewing you for the job, aren’t they?

Send a letter, an email, or both. Tell them you appreciate being considered, say something positive about something they said or about their case or company, showing that you understand their situation and believe you can help them.

You might consider a hand-written thank you note because few people do that anymore.

Actually, few lawyers send a thank you note of any kind after their first meeting with a prospective client. That’s another reason you should. It is a simple but effective way to get prospective clients to put you on their short list.

Thank you for reading this message. I appreciate that you took a few minutes from your busy day to read my words. I look forward to hearing from you and working with you.

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RIP Grumpy Cat

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Grumpy Cat died. You know, the cat with the down-turned mouth who looked like he was perpetually in a bad mood. The cat who inspired hundreds of Internet memes?

Yeah, that Grumpy Cat.

Question: when you’re a grumpy cat, what do you do about it?

You shouldn’t be around clients when you’re in a bad mood. It’s bad for business. Nobody likes a Debbie Downer.

Your employees might give you a little slack (because they have to), but they’d rather not have you in the office when you’re wearing the weight of the world on your shoulders.

When you have a sad or you’re feeling mad, what do you do?

Put on some music? Actually, that’s a good idea. Listen to some tunes that lift your spirits, or listen to some music that makes you sad–for some reason, that works, too.

If music doesn’t fix you up, if you’re still feeling like Lucy took your football, you’ve got to fake it. Pretend you’re in a good mood. Act as if.

Put on a (fake) smile and soon you’ll be smiling for realz.

If music and fake smiles don’t help, if you’re really bad off, leave. Flee the scene. Go home, go to a movie, go do some retail therapy.

Get out of the office for a few hours and get your head right.

Grumpy Cat was cute. Grumpy Lawyer, not so much.

How to get your clients to send you more referrals

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