We all know that satisfied existing clients are your best source of future business. They will continue to use your services when they need a lawyer, and they are your best referral source for new clients.
Yet, most clients are unable to appreciate a quality work product because they aren’t lawyers. Consequently, they tend to judge the quality of your work based on service-related issues and how they are treated when they deal with you and your firm.
Allow me to use the analogy of the automobile mechanic. If you own a car, you know you need a good, trustworthy mechanic to keep the car running smoothly and to fix problems as they arise. You don’t necessarily want to know what’s going on under the hood. Your mechanic is supposed to know all that stuff. And you trust him or her to treat you right.
If you are like me, you assess the quality of your mechanic’s work based on the way you are treated and whether or not you trust him or her. Does the mechanic listen to you when you bring the car in for servicing, keep your car running smoothly, and provide an estimate before starting the work? Is the bill reasonable and within estimate? Is your car clean and ready when promised? These are among the factors that most people use to evaluate the quality of a mechanic’s work.
John Remsen Jr. is president of The Remsen Group, a marketing consulting firm that works exclusively with law firms to help them attract and retain the clients they want.
I believe that these are the same kinds of factors that clients apply to lawyers and other professional service providers. They don’t necessarily want to know the intricacies of the law. They want good results. They want to feel like you are taking good care of them. They want to trust you. These factors are especially important when you are dealing with a brand new client.
As we begin 2015, I thought it might be good time to share my “10 Golden Rules to Make New Clients Happy.” Here goes….
1. Send New Clients a “Client Welcome Kit”
I am amazed at how few law firms do this. In addition to a well-written cover letter from the managing partner, include your firm brochure, a client service pledge, a current list of contacts with direct-dial phone numbers and email addresses, and a nice gift.
2. Seek to Understand the Big Picture
The best lawyers – the ones who deliver the most value to their clients – take the time to learn about their clients’ business (and personal) goals and objectives. They ask smart questions and do lots of listening. They understand how the particular legal matter they are being asked to handle fits into the big picture. It’s also a smart idea to understand the dynamics and trends of the industry in which your client competes. Visiting a new client’s place of business is also a great way to get things started on the right foot.
3. Establish Your Client’s Expectations and Then Exceed Them
Walk your client through how you propose to handle the matter and what he or she can expect in terms of results and timelines. Create a reasonable set of expectations and do your best to beat them. If you discover you are unable to meet your commitments, or the results are not likely to be what you anticipated, share that information with the client as soon as possible. In almost all cases, you will be forgiven.
4. Always Follow Through on Commitments
Set reasonable deadlines and do your best to follow through as promised. If you promise a draft of the contract in three weeks, deliver it in two. Breaking promises aggravates clients and diminishes their trust in you.
5. Promptly Return Telephone Calls (and Emails), Always
Nothing upsets clients more than an unreturned phone call. It’s the number one complaint clients have about lawyers. You may not think a return phone call is all that important (especially if there is nothing to report), but your client sure as heck does. Adopt a policy to return all calls the same day you receive them. It’s a darn good habit.
6. Communicate with Clients in the Manner They Prefer
I’m one of those people who like to talk on the phone. After all, I can talk a whole lot faster than I can type. And I hate it when I place a phone call to discuss an issue with a vendor and get an email back. Most clients feel the same way. Ask new clients to tell you the method and frequency of communication they prefer, and deliver your updates and progress reports accordingly. If you can’t be flexible, tell clients up front how you operate. (And remember the rule above: promptly answer all email messages and phone calls.)
7. Introduce Your Client to the Team Working on His or Her Matter
Take the time to invite new clients to your office to meet the team who will be working on their matters. And make sure you include the paralegals, legal assistants, receptionist, and other individuals they likely will be talking to on a regular basis. Doing so helps make your staff feel part of the team and, in many cases, your clients will be interacting with your staff more often than with you.
8. Resist the Temptation to “Overlawyer” the Matter
Trust me; clients don’t want to pay their lawyer more than necessary to have their matter properly handled. Many lawyers feel compelled to research issues to death and uncover every stone to make sure they are 100 percent correct. But most clients are happy with 90 percent. Worse yet, the pressure to generate billable hours often encourages inefficiency and “overlawyering” to meet performance requirements. Be sensitive to the issue, and do what’s appropriate for your client.
9. Never, Ever, Send a Surprise Invoice
It’s good practice to discuss estimated fees and costs up front with new clients. Give a ball park estimate of what your fee will be and discuss developments that might unexpectedly arise. Talk through the options, and seek your client’s direction on how to handle them. Never, ever, send your client a surprise bill. Like failure to communicate, this is a sure way to lose a client, and the (former) client probably will tell other people about the experience.
10. Show Clients That You Appreciate Their Business
Be sure to invite your client to your firm’s annual client appreciation event, and consider taking her to a ball game, playing golf, or inviting him to lunch or dinner on occasion. Invest time in building the relationship. Holiday cards are nice, but not nearly enough.
There is more to practicing law than providing quality legal work. You’ve got to provide great service, too. If you practice these golden rules consistently, you will end up with loyal, long-term clients and an enjoyable and gratifying legal career. And that’s a promise!