It’s been awhile since I harped on how important client satisfaction with their legal service provider is. Since starting this blog in January 2005, I have preached many, many times on how important feedback is for firms to retain existing clients or obtain referrals from them (See a few posts below on the subject). It started with my Top Ten Marketing Tips posts; and ranked No. 3 on the list in terms of prominence when it comes to developing (and holding on to) business IMHO.
With the significant changes in the legal profession that have occurred since the “second” great depression, client feedback is needed even more now. In fact, I should probably move it up to No. 2 on my list of best practices.
The topic has been mentioned in the Citi/Hildebrandt client advisory before, and it is again in the “2014 Client Advisory.” This year’s advisory addresses, under the topic of firm growth, three areas: organic growth, laterals and mergers. And under organic growth, it covers the issue of client feedback and the interrelationship with cross-selling, to wit:
“In Citi’s 2013 Law Firm Leaders Survey (LexisNexis® subscription req.)…57 managing partners of predominantly Am Law (sic) 100 firms described how critical cross-selling efforts have become….(T)he survey also found that while a substantial number of firms have a formal client feedback program, the majority (53%) do not.”
Two-thirds of those that have a formal program talk with clients about cross-selling; and those who don’t often talk about price. The advisory states that law firm clients more often ”talk about the importance of relationships with their firms.”
“Implementing a formal client feedback program is a key means by which firms can further cement their client relationships and capture greater market share.”
In today’s new world, it is important to solidify as many client relationships as possible in order to avoid reducing your firm’ market share. Nah, more than that, it’s critical.
Client Satisfaction Surveys for Law Firms
How Satisfied Are Your Clients? Ask Them
Client Interviews: Think Defensively
Client Interviews: Why They Really Are Necessary
Your success in landing new clients, or retaining existing clients for that matter, can relate directly to how they are treated when they contact your firm. I have commented in the past on this blog about the role of the receptionist and how important he or she is in terms of the impact it makes on visitors or those who call. For a couple of my posts on the topic, see links below.
In a recent post by Noble McIntyre on Attorney at Work, he addresses telephone etiquette. Why should you care you may ask? Because the telephone is probably your main source of contact with the outside world.
First, McIntyre talks about automated phone answering systems and other impersonal ways people are sometimes treated when calling law firms. I actually know of law firms (albeit small ones) that had no human answer the phone. Rather, they had automated systems requiring several prompts to get to an individual lawyer or a human. I totally agree with his comment that such systems “can raise time barriers, frustrate callers and make your practice seem impersonal.” Crazy, in a personal service business!
Here are a few of McIntyre’s common sense telephone tips:
- Answer promptly before the third ring. We live in an impatient world, and although three or more rings are not the end of it, punctuality when it comes to answering the phone is a VERY good idea;
- Whoever answers needs to do so in a most professional manner, and in a most “pleasant tone of voice”;
- Don’t have someone else (like the phone company’s computer) record your outgoing message;
- Don’t give the person the runaround or make them go through a bunch of hoops to just learn that your are not available and they can leave a voicemail; and,
- Train your receptionist as to who is who, especially when it comes to important clients. The second time I called my son’s law firm, the receptionist recognized my voice immediately. Granted some might say I have the voice of a rhinoceros, and maybe that wasn’t so tough for her. But, I was blown away. Think how your clients and contacts will feel.
I’ve often made the comment that the receptionist should be the highest-paid marketing person in a law firm, just as a cashier should be in a bank. Ridiculous I know, but think about how important they are. They are first and foremost the front line of contact with prospects and most clients. And you need to have one that has the proper etiquette and demeanor to handle those calls.
Don’t Fire Your Receptionist…
Receptionist Tells Client to Get Lost
In today’s competitive legal world, it is more important than ever to be a GREAT lawyer. That has less to do with your law school credentials than you may think. Of course clients want great results when it comes to their legal matter. Yes, your capabilities matter in that regard. And in the good old days that may have been enough. Not anymore.
In the new normal (and actually in the old normal for that matter) a great lawyer possesses certain characteristics that set her or him apart. And they actually play a bigger role in how “great” you are perceived by clients.
In a truly little (4” x 6″, 53 pages), but dynamite book published in 2006, those characteristics were spelled out by Jim Durham in what he titled “The Essential Little Book of Great Lawyering.” Coming across this book again, I thought it worth a revisit and recommend it to your reading. The following is a brief summary of some of those GREAT characteristics:
- Always be available to clients;
- Know and understand each (at least key) client’s business;
- Give practical advice (in a business context), don’t just do good legal work;
- Add greater value to client’s business/situation;
- Personalize relationships;
- Deliver on promises (every time); and
- Be loyal and seek meaningful feedback.
Good lawyers may have some of these traits. Great lawyers exude them all. Oh yeah, they also do great legal work.
It’s been awhile since I wrote about flat fees as an alternative fee arrangement. I’ve covered the topic many times on this blog. I don’t see it as a current hot topic in the legal marketing press, but IMHO it is one that clients (at least non-BigLaw clients) are most interested in.
Think about it. Who likes surprises? No one, unless it’s the lottery winning kind. I don’t like bombshells when it comes to auto mechanics, plumber, electricians, or even lawyers I’ve retained in the past. I want to know what things cost, or least a damn good estimate. Fixed fees are one way to avoid unpleasant surprises for your clients.
So, I was taken with Patrick Lamb’s contribution to a free download on Attorney at Work entitled “New Math, New Money: A Lawyer’s Guide to the Changing Business of Law.” Lamb is a pioneer when it comes to opposing the billable hour. In the aforementioned download, he points out five client benefits with the use of fixed fees:
- Saves client/in-house lawyer’s time in reviewing bills;
- Increases predictability in the cost of legal services;
- Simplifies the client budgeting effort, particularly where the business and law firm have different fiscal years;
- Increases client trust that they are not being taken advantage of; and
- Clients don’t worry about the number of lawyers or that too senior attorneys are working their matter.
In today’s incredibly, competitive legal marketplace, it would be wise to improve your clients’ experiences by offering fixed fees. They’ll be a lot happier, at least most of them!
It is not a bad idea to remind ourselves once and awhile about the differences between advertising and publicity. I’ve written on the topic several times and reference a couple of them with links below. It’s important to keep in mind that (good) publicity is more effective than advertising, because someone else is quoting you and/or writing about you.
Advertising, on the other hand, is controlled by you, and thus less credible because you are “writing” or otherwise providing information about yourself and your firm. Not objective nor without self-aggrandizement, I think most would agree.
Accordingly, almost everyone would agree that publicity is the better of the two. Advertising is not a bad thing. It’s just that, as I have preached previously, it is not the most effective way to develop business for your firm. It has a role but not in my mind until other more effective marketing and business development tactics have been put into action.
What brought this to mind is today’s meditation in 365 Marketing Meditations: Daily Lessons for Marketing and Communications Professionals, by Larry Smith and Richard Levick with Levick Strategic Communications. It states:
“Publicity is far less controllable and takes more time to work than advertising, but has far greater credibility. If I read it, it must be true.”
Well, we all know it doesn’t mean it’s true, but media coverage that has a quote or other positive things to say about you/your firm certainly is more believable.
Bottom line: make friends with the media so they will get to know you, and hopefully, talk about you and your practice. It will be far more effective than any self-serving ad in producing more legal work for your firm.
Don’t Let Your Advertising Raise False Expectations
Marketing vs. PR vs. Advertising
Don’t Waste Your Money On The Yellow Pages
I’m not much of a fisherman but I do understand some of the basics around those who take this sport seriously. They know that you must have the right equipment, learn as much as possible as to where the fish are hanging out, and be patient.
There is a very entertaining article by Sue Bramall that appears in the UK’s The Law Society Gazette. Bramall relates good fly fishing techniques to effective business development.
Her tips include:
- Not the right time. Basically, this refers to clients that do not have a need for your services. Timing just isn’t right, and thus is similar to a fisherman trying to catch fish when they’re not feeding;
- Nor the right place. Obviously if the fish are not where you are fishing, you will not be very successful. Nor would you be effective in marketing, if your clients don’t hang out where you spend your business development dollars and efforts;
- The right lure. Fisherman use different lures for different fish. Clients too respond to different marketing activities. A shotgun approach is more likely to work for plaintiffs’ attorneys, where a more focused rifle shot would not. Know your marketplace;
- Planning ahead. By paying attention to activities by location, season, etc., you can better estimate where the fish will be and possibly in a feeding frenzy. So too when it comes to specific legislative activity, or high profile cases, or changes in public policy. Anticipating and preparing in advance can put you in a better position to provide the needed advice when things start happening;
- Fly on the water. Like having the right fly on the water to snare fish, it is important for lawyers to have the right marketing tools ready and to USE them. Doesn’t help to know what needs to be done, but continue to sit behind your desk when you should be out and about;
- Respond to opportunities quickly. Fishermen know that when there is a tug on the line, they need to react quickly. No different when your firm receives an inquiry about its services;
- Be patient. Patience is synonymous with fishing, which was not one of my assets in my youth. A pal and I after a night of “partying” would often go fishing at the Cape Cod Canal after midnight. We would give it 15 minutes and if we didn’t get a bite, we’d pack it in. If you make a presentation at a conference, and then you don’t get immediate work out of it, do you no longer seek speaking opportunities? Patience is truly a virtue we can learn from fisherman;
- Don’t give up. Developing business is part of the profession. More today than ever. If something doesn’t work (and you’ve given it the old college try), then try something else. Try to enjoy the moment.
Like good fisherman and rainmakers, both of whom love the sport of it, keep at it.
P.S. Thanks to my LegalBizDev colleague, Gary Richards, for putting me on to Bramall’s article.
There are many ways lawyers communicate with clients. Whether subtly or otherwise, they do so through their actions, as well as inactions. And either way, these “communications” (or lack thereof), all have a direct impact on the firm’s marketing success.
Brian Callan, a practice management advisor with AbacusLaw, sent an email article, with a play on the letters t-r-e-a-t, in which he suggests five ways to treat clients well, so they know you care for them and are working your tuckus off on their behalf.
Callan’s “secrets” to success include:
- Timeliness and Responsiveness. Get back to clients promptly (in today’s rapid communication world, that means ASAP or sooner) and be responsive to their call/email. Whichever way clients contact your office, I strongly suggest that you return it within an hour, no more than two. If you are not personally able to do so, then empower someone within your firm to return the call/email and inform the client as to when you will personally contact them);
- Empathy. Clients want to be listened to and understood. Included in that, I would add, is the need to be treated with dignity and respect, rather than treated as a lesser human being because they didn’t go to law school);
- Assurance. Obviously, lawyers cannot ethically guarantee results or the outcome of a matter. (That is not to say the you shouldn’t assure clients that you will work very hard to get the best possible result for them); and
- Tangibles. Send clients copies of letters and other documents, and keep them advised as to the status of their matter. (Two state bars I am familiar with report that 80% of grievances filed against lawyers are the result of a lack of communication and/or inattention to client matters). So, demonstrate in tangible ways that you are working hard for them.
Accordingly, if you are not doing all these things as a minimum, you are making critical marketing mistakes.
This is the time of year to especially enjoy family and friends. However, set aside some time over the holidays to plan some goals for your law practice in 2014. Don’t wait until January.
Sally Schmidt has an article on today’s Attorney at Work that outlines some 2014 goals and strategies that may just help you and your firm in the coming year. She talks about four areas to focus on, and I wholeheartedly endorse her marketing and business development suggestions:
- Increase your personal interaction. This is vital to any practice. Visit clients (off the clock) particularly your key or “crown jewel” clients. I wouldn’t limit the number of visits, however. Rather, I would visit as many as possible, since such visits often lead to immediate new work. Nor would I limit my visits to clients only. Include important referral sources as well. Further, I would plan to have coffee or lunch with at least one client and/or referral source every week. I very much like Schmidt’s suggestion to “send at least one personal note a week,” but make sure it is handwritten, including the envelope. Finally, email interactions (other than for communicating about a client matter, especially if it is a client’s preference) should be a last choice. Better to communicate by phone or in-person;
- Provide better client service. In today’s competitive environment, this is a no brainer. Not only does it lead to more work from happy clients, but valuable referrals to new clients. Unhappy clients do not come back or make referrals; in fact, they’re more likely to say bad things about your services and their experience with your firm. Better service means keeping clients informed about their matter and returning calls almost immediately, if not sooner. If you can’t do so, empower someone else to call the client back and inform them of when you will personally be in touch;
- Look for opportunities to raise your profile. This might include more writing and speaking, and responding to blog posts and social media discussions, particularly on LinkedIn; and
- Work on your credentials. Polish your elevator speech(es) – short, succinct explanation(s) of what you do to “help” clients achieve their goals. It shouldn’t begin with “I’m a lawyer….” but rather that you “try to resolve (fill in the blank) problems on behalf of (types of clients/businesses/industries)”; and revise your bio to include up-to-date information about your experience on transactional matters or cases (without identifying clients names without their permission).
Be prepared for the new year. As Benjamin Franklin is quoted as say: “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”
The matter of whether to send printed holiday cards instead of e-cards is one that I feel very strongly about. It is not unlike my view about sending handwritten Thank You notes, instead of emails when expressing gratitude or congratulations to someone. I’ve written and spoken about the topic many, many times on this blog over the past eight years and for longer in my business development seminars.
It is much more personal, especially when notes, as well as the envelopes, are handwritten. Not enough people take the time to show they really care. Since the Internet entered our lives, way too many take the easy way out. Yet, it appears that many, including lawyers still see the value in printed cards.
Bob Weiss surveyed 140 lawyers as to their views on the subject, and wrote about it on Attorney at Work. Weiss admits it is not a scientifically sound survey. Nonetheless, I believe the results are telling. Over 60% of lawyers from one to over 20 years in practice, and in all age groups “prefer holiday cards over e-cards.” So, it isn’t just us old folks that feel that way. Moreover, approximately 80% said it made a better impression if the card is “personally signed and includes a brief personal note.” Weiss also has 6 tips on how to go about handling the process.
Thus, my message is to NOT send E-cards instead of printed holiday cards. Otherwise, your message may come across as: “I don’t have the time to send a meaningful card, because you (fill in the blank – ‘friend’, referral source or client) are just not important enough for the effort to do so.”
Not good marketing.
As the saying goes you can’t win ‘em all. Some cases or transactions are not going to end well. Don’t beat yourself up over it. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be concerned over a disappointed, or worse, angry client over the outcome of a matter.
A post by Ryan Sullivan on Attorney at Law addresses those situations “When Clients Get Upset Over The Result.” She provides five tips on how to avoid and/or deal with “a client’s anger over a not-so-happy ending.” They include:
- Don’t over promise or under deliver. Lawyers know that it is unethical to create unrealistic expectations or guarantee results. Most lawyers also understand that while trying to land a client you do not want to overemphasize “doom or gloom” either. So, it is very important to minimize promises and to explain realistic options;
- Keep the client involved during the process. Sullivan suggest that you want to let the client know how hard you are working for them, and how things are proceeding. But, don’t only communicate the good things that are happening. A client needs to know about the good, the bad and the ugly as things proceed. Surprises is what angers clients the most;
- Prepare in advance an explanation, regardless of the outcome. Planning is always a good thing. So, plan to explain, which ever way things turn out, as part of your normal routine, especially in the case where it doesn’t turn out so well. During that session, listen to the client, execute your prepared plan, and schedule a follow up meeting after the adrenaline has subsided, and “there’s been a time for cooler heads to prevail;”
- Keep your cool. As a professional, it is important to maintain the emotional high road. Since you know that you can’t control what a judge or jury will do, or an opposing counsel’s tactics, it is your responsibility to remain calm, be sympathetic and show concern. But, you need to focus on your professionalism, no matter how unhappy you are on a personal level; and
- Keep the big picture in mind. Remember that you can never win them all (even though they told us in law school otherwise). Don’t forget that the most important person to you is you, and to your family. You need to move on no matter how angry the client or the outcome. Don’t let the situation, as Sullivan puts it, “define who you are or how you practice law” going forward (except to correct your screw up of course, if applicable).
How you conduct yourself in these situation will impact your reputation, and how and what the client says about you. It is a marketing issue.