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  • WisBar News
    October 23, 2015

    Telephone Doctor Writes Prescription for Stellar Customer Service

    Here are tips to help you gain and keep a good client base, by using stellar customer service and communication, according to the Telephone Doctor, Nancy Friedman. Learn these and other "golden nuggets," including the idea that innovation is the key to the future of the profession.

    Shannon Green

    Nancy Friedman

    The Telephone Doctor herself, Nancy Friedman, shares a laugh with the crowd during her opening plenary, with Nancy Trueblood, right.

    Follow the conference on Twitter with #WSSFC. Follow us on Twitter, @statebarofwi.

    For photos and more information about the conference, see Facebook, Twitter, and Flickr.

    Nov. 4, 2015 – So, just how do you gain and keep a good client base?

    Get back to the basics, says Nancy Friedman with Telephone Doctor Customer Service Training, New York.

    The prescription is simply this: Not simply good customer service, but the highest level of customer service and communication.

    Friedman spoke at the opening plenary at the State Bar of Wisconsin’s 2015 Solo and Small Firm Conference in Wisconsin Dells on Oct. 22, 2015.

    Speaking on the topic of “Golden Nuggets of Communications,” Friedman presented her ideas with energy and humor while emphasizing that, no matter your field of endeavor, “All of life is customer service.”

    To generate client business that will keep returning to you, it is vitally important to dedicate yourself to excellent customer service. And here’s Friedman’s prescription:

    • Referrals – any business referral is “gold.” Be sure to send a handwritten thank-you note to the person who gave you the referral.

    • Upset or irate clients – acknowledge and apologize, and don’t give excuses. Then prepare to help solve the issue.

    • Avoid email frustrations – check your spelling and grammar; respond, even if it’s to say, “I’ll contact you later.” And keep the subject line updated.

    • Clients’ names – use them at the beginning, middle and end of the conversation, when speaking.

    • Emotional leakage, or taking your anger out on an undeserving person – “Don’t do that,” Friedman said. Clear your head and emotions before speaking with another person after an encounter leaves you upset.

    • The NUM Call – the “No Ulterior Motive” call. Reach out and contact someone simply to say “I’m thinking of you” or “How are you?” without asking anything of them.

    Carolyn Elefant

    Carolyn Elefant talks with Phillip Thomas Stamm of Wisconsin Dells, following her session on the future of the solo practice.

    Not Irrelevant

    The good news is that solo and small-firm lawyers – or lawyers in general – are not irrelevant, as some may say.

    And, in fact, there is a promising future: through innovation and by keeping up with technological advances, according to Carolyn Elefant, a solo attorney who practices in Washington, D.C., and author of the solo practice blog

    Elefant spoke at the Solo and Small Firm Conference on Oct. 23, at the plenary session on the future of the solo practice. The key factor is technology: Stay on top of it, and use it to allow you to become innovative in your practice.

    Keep an eye on what your clients are becoming familiar with: With the increase in online providers that give legal information to clients, like Shake Simply Legal and Rocket Lawyer, “Consumers are becoming more accustomed to doing business online,” Elefant said. And they are looking for lawyers to be more accessible.

    Are You Accessible?

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    Attendees learned and laughed at the Wisconsin Solo & Small Firm Conference on Oct. 22. These four captured gold in the first ever WSSFC Amazing Race competition. Congrats, Team Giraffe! Check out our Facebook page for more fun photos from the race.

    That doesn’t necessarily mean being tied to your computer or email 24 hours a day. Instead, make it easier for clients to become your clients. Look into the design of your website: is it approachable? Does it provide information in a way that is understandable to your clients?

    Review your representation agreement: Is the paper version three inches thick or something that is readable in a reasonable amount of time? Shorter representation agreements allow clients to understand – and sign them – more quickly. Also, to get your clients on board more quickly, use an electronic signature service for your agreements, which makes waiting days for the exchange through the mail a thing of the past.

    Online services like Legal Zoom aren’t necessarily taking business away from solo and small-firm lawyers. “I think a lot of these tools are addressing the types of needs that lawyers would never have taken before, because the needs were just too small,” Elefant said.

    Shannon Green is communications writer for the State Bar of Wisconsin, Madison. She can be reached by email or by phone at (608) 250-6135.

    But, “we’re at this critical point.” So how do you make your practice more sustainable and ensure you are around to compete with the online services as they become more sophisticated?

    Look for ways to provide different types of services to your clients: think beyond the billable hour or a flat fee. Consider the possibilities of a subscription service, for ongoing or preventative services, where contracts or estate plans are reviewed and updated annually. Periodic contact with clients ensures you’ll be there when they need a lawyer for the bigger transactions or contracts.

    “This is a win-win,” Elefant said.

    Changes or updates in the Rules of Professional Conduct are needed to help lawyers who use trust accounts – current rules, she said, can impede cash flow.

    Systemic change is needed in the profession. It’s incumbent on rule-making authorities to make those changes happen so it is easier for lawyers to survive as a profession, she said.

    “We should move over to the 21st century where people pay for things by credit card,” Elefant said.

    Packed room at WSSFC

    Plenary speaker Carolyn Elefant speaks to a packed house on the future of the solo practice.

    Elefant has a proposal to support innovation and research among lawyers: “If a lawyer has an idea for some sort of online concept – a virtual practice, a way to attract people on social media – and they come up with a way to do it within the ethics rules,” they should be free of ethics challenges – provided they have done their due diligence and are operating within the parameters of ethics rules.

    “That’s the only way our profession can move forward,” Elefant said.

    It is lawyers, and not those offering legal services online, who should lead the way to innovation.

    “We have to start making ourselves more relevant to clients, more appealing, more accessible,” Elefant said.

    Other Conference “Nuggets”

    Some additional “nuggets” of wisdom heard at the conference include:

    1) Surround yourself with good people.

    Travis West, of Pia Anderson Dorius Reynard & Moss, speaking at the session, “If I knew then what I know now,” says that your career and years are short enough to not spend time working with people you just can’t get along with. Surround yourself with good people, he says, that make your working life pleasant. “This is worth more than a high salary,” West said.

    Michael Brennan and Zeshan Usman

    Michael Brennan and Zeshan Usman now have the t-shirts to prove that happy solo and small firm lawyers do exist.

    2) Market yourself only to the type of clients that you need to serve.

    Learn where those clients are, and don’t spend time, money, or resources marketing to the wrong demographics, West said.

    3) Establish a work-life balance.

    At the same session, Mark Hazelbaker of Kasieta Legal Group LLC recommends establishing a strong work-life balance. “No matter how much money you earn in your career, you can never get back the years” spent with your family and children.

    4) Build relationships that lead to trust.

    Once you have someone’s trust, they will seek you out again, says Jeffrey Glazer of the U.W. Law & Entrepreneurship Clinic. “They will become a repeat customer, because they trust you,” Glazer said.

    5) Believe in yourself.

    “Whatever you do, you’d better firmly believe you’re good at it,” said Madison solo attorney Christopher Van Wagner. Lawyers need to be able to confidently sell their ability to get the job done well. “You have to look someone in the eye and say ‘I would like to represent you in that matter,’” Van Wagner said.

    The Lederer Award Winner, Byll Hess

    Byll Hess, Johanna Kirk, and Kathy Brost

    William “Byll” Hess received the 2015 John Lederer Service Award today at WSSFC. He is flanked by conference planning chair Johanna Kirk (left) and plenary committee member Kathy Brost.

    The highlight of Friday’s networking luncheon was the awarding of the John Lederer Service Award to Wausau attorney William “Byll” Hess. Hess received the award for his efforts in creating the State Bar’s Law Office Management Assistance Program – also called Practice411 – and his involvement as an organizer in prior years of the Solo and Small Firm Conference.

    “I’m honored by this award, but I’m really more honored that I’ve had the opportunity to work with so many people (to) make the practice of law easier” for all, Hess said.

    But he’s not done yet. He intends to create a plan that will help lawyers transition their practices – either out of the field entirely or into a new practice area.

    “I’ll be back,” he promised.

    Follow the conference on Twitter with #WSSFC. Follow us on Twitter, @statebarofwi.

    For photos and more information about the conference, see Facebook, Twitter, and Flickr.

    Editor's note: An earlier version of this article appeared on WisBar News on Oct. 23, 2015.

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