Customer Service 101: How to Keep Your Clients Happy, Part 3By Nina Kaufman, Esq.
We noted in the previous post on competency why you need to resist the temptation to be all things to all people. Another element of keeping customers happy is communication.
By the time clients reach your firm, they’re nervous. Maybe they’re in a jam and need help (they’ve been sued); or they see the writing on the wall and want to forestall a crisis (their marriage is on the rocks); or they’re taking a big step out of their comfort zone (they’re starting a new business with other partners). It’s also possible that your legal fees were not an anticipated part of their normal budgeting process (assuming they had one).
Ethics and malpractice prevention courses emphasize the importance of good communication. Clients want to be reassured that their matter will not languish or be forgotten. It doesn’t take much – just be accessible and responsive. You can’t necessarily answer every telephone call or email immediately, but you can set a policy for yourself of responding within 1-2 business days. Or, if you’re out of the office, let people know when you will respond (“I’m on trial until Wednesday”). Let them know if you’ve made contingency plans (“You can call Jane Roe, who will be handling your matters in my absence.”). Out of office email autoresponders, receptionists, voice mail messages — all can be used effectively to convey this information. Consider a tickler system for touching base with all of your clients on a regular basis. This ensures you know what’s going on in their business, and they’re reminded of what you’re doing for them.
Unreliability is also a perennial complaint among clients. “My lawyer said she’d get the document/information/settlement check, etc., to me by so-and-such a date and she never did!” Be good to your word. Deliver when you promise. If you can’t meet the deadline (and we’re all human), let your client know as soon as possible. Give a new deadline for when you reasonably think the task can be completed, information retrieved, etc.
Clients may have high expectations as to when tasks should be completed. “I had an investment client who was used to quick decisions. Because the Trademark Office can take 5-6 months just to assign an examiner to an application, I knew that I had to forewarn him up front – and repeatedly — what to expect,” relates Daniel Abraham, a copyright, trademark, and licensing attorney in New York City. As Olivera Medenica of Wahab & Medenica LLC also alluded, if the client’s request is beyond your expertise–especially if fees for other lawyers may be incurred–this should be aired and cleared with the client timely.
Another way to reassure your clients is by “speaking their language.” Rochelle Lisner, founder of Dynamic Business Growth, points out, “Your role as attorney is both problem-solver and translator. You’re their guide through this strange, arcane world of The Law.” Legal situations produce a lot of stress and tension for clients. They’re intimidating, as are attorneys. Not understanding what their lawyer is talking about further compounds a client’s anxiety. “If you’re going to speak legalese, you might as well be speaking Swahili. It’ll be just as effective,” she retorts. “All languages can be translated, even if not perfectly,” adds Lisner, who first language was Yiddish. To hone your “translation skills,” she suggests writing articles and speaking to audiences on subjects related to your practice area. “It helps prevent you from sounding like Professor Pedantic from Federal Taxation class.”
While you may know your subject area and communicate effectively, it’s also crucial to be creative.
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