Customer Service 101: How to Keep Your Clients Happy, Part 2

By Nina Kaufman, Esq.

We noted in the previous post that the three “C’s” of good customer service are competency, communication, and creativity.

Are you competent to serve the customer market you’ve chosen?

Competency has two factors:  choosing and currency.  What areas of practice have you chosen, and are you keeping current in all – not just some — of them?  “You can’t be all things to all people,” cautions Rochelle Lisner, founder of Dynamic Business Growth, a sales training and team building company based in New York City.  Lisner has seen the ill effects when companies accept business that doesn’t suit them because they are terrified of not having enough coming through the door.

“It’s a nightmare,” she relates.  “They’ll take on a dog of a customer, spend far more time on it than they ordinarily would or should have (which reduces their profit margin), put other customers aside (which harms the relationship with those clients), have the tension and stress of ‘am I doing this right or am I a walking lawsuit?’ . . . and for what?  It’s absolutely not worth it,” she states.  She suggests that attorneys spend the time they would on the “dog” beefing up their pipeline of appropriate referrals instead.  “You need real clarity about who you are and what you do,” Lisner offers.  “Otherwise, people don’t know what to refer to you.  Think of three kinds of clients you’ve helped, or legal matters you’ve handled, and focus on those.  You’ll be surprised how much easier it will be for people to keep you in mind when you have a laser-like focus.”

Seth Borden, a partner in McKenna Long & Aldridge, agrees.  “You don’t use a dentist if you need open heart surgery,” he says.  “We are labor and employment lawyers for management.  That’s all we do, and we’re committed to that focus.”  Although tempting, Borden points out that handling work such as plaintiffs’ employment cases could have negative long-term effects for his firm.  “It’s very enticing when you have, for example, a friend who got fired from a large company.  I’ve been on the other side of those cases, so I know how to handle them.  But there could be a future conflicts check problem if my firm ever wanted to represent that company . . . and that’s where the real, ongoing work is.”  As a result, Borden has developed a strong network of attorneys in other specialties to whom he makes referrals.  “I’ve found that our best relationships have been with other specialized boutique firms who serve a similar client base,” he noted.  “We allow each other to provide added value without direct competition.”

Similarly, Olivera Medenica has “of counsel” relationships between several attorneys and her firm, Wahab & Medenica LLC.  “We handle commercial and non-patent IP law,” she says, “but some of our clients have immigration or patent issues that are closely intertwined.  It has arisen often enough that we need a close relationship with those specialists – not just referral sources.”  Medenica admits that she has occasionally stepped outside her usual bounds of practice.  “Every once in a while, a current client will have needs in another area – an uncontested divorce or a simple will, for example.  And sometimes, they really don’t want to go to another attorney.”  In those situations, Medenica reaches out to attorneys in those areas for an overseeing, supervisory eye.  She is also very careful to explain to the clients in advance these services are outside her normal expertise.

Even if you have chosen particular field of expertise, it is easy to fall behind if you don’t keep abreast of changes in the law.  Courts, legislatures, technology, society – all are a never-ending source of new laws, as well as interpretations of old ones.  Most states have recognized this and have instituted mandatory CLE requirements.  But CLE requirements don’t have to be fulfilled with courses in your primary practice areas.  [See Ways to Keep Current – for tips on maximizing the effectiveness of those courses] “It’s absolutely vital to stay current, but a real challenge to find the time,” says Borden.