A Bird In the Hand: Focus On Keeping Your Existing Clients Happy
Law firms have been long known to
spend more time and effort wooing
new clients and business than on instituting
systems that focus on their existing
clients. The estimated cost of bringing in
new clients is five times that of retaining
and managing current clients. An article
by James L. Heskett, entitled ďFocusing
on Your CustomerĒ in the Harvard
Business Review highlights the importance
of taking care of your current
clients. The article cited that a 5 percent
increase in client loyalty could boost business
from 25 percent to 85 percent. For
law firms to grow, client-focused systems
must play an essential role in their marketing
While these questions are a good starting point, there are some areas that continually resurface when clients are asked about performance and value from their law firms. Client dissatisfaction in the following areas will inevitably reduce the value of your firmís service.
Failure to meet deadlines and setting unrealistic goals will start diminishing your credibility and trust with your client. Clients may not be aware of the attorneyís workload, but they do remember what the attorney committed to do and whether that commitment was met. A wiser policy might be to deliver earlier than you had promised. The attorney will look good when he comes in ahead of schedule. When setting deadlines, give yourself a cushion and allow for the chaos factor, such as unexpected meetings and work taking a lot longer than you expected. If you do miss your deadline commitments, contact your client and keep them informed.
One area that consistently draws complaints from clients is communication, particularly when it comes to returning phone calls. Failing to return calls promptly may not be intentional, but because of their workload and other pressing matters, many lawyers often view this task as a low priority. When circum- stances make it impossible for you to return a call, have someone in your office ó staff, secretary, paralegal or associates ó do it. Make it a habit to return all client calls and e-mails within 24 hours. Keeping the lines of communication open is at the heart of all good client-focused systems.
Another frequent complaint is that lawyers tend to be discourteous to their clients. Again, while it is not intentional, lawyers do fall into the trap of thinking itís the expertise they are getting hired for, not their bedside manners. Far too often they are juggling so many things that they are oblivious to acts and behavior perceived by clients as inconsiderate. Clients expect to be cared for. A good rule of thumb is to treat your clientís time as if it was your own. Do your best to start client meetings on time and hold your calls during the meeting. If it is absolutely imperative to take a telephone call, take it in another office. Greet clients personally instead of sending staff to meet them. Remember, your job is to make your client feel like royalty no matter how small or large the business it has brought to the firm.
Clients want to know that you connect with them on a human level. Take the time to get to know them as people, find out what they are interested in. Showing enthusiasm and interest in what they enjoy will go a long way towards building rapport. Break bread with your clients; meet them for coffee or lunch and donít charge them for that time. Bottom line, if you want your clients to believe you care about them, you need to take an active role in learning who they are as human beings.
It is not unusual for experienced lawyers to size up a clientís situation quickly, particularly if the attorney has considerable experience in that area of law. In such situations, attorneys tend to focus only on the facts. By focusing on facts, attorneys miss out on an essential component: clients hired you not just for the legal expertise but also to pay attention to their emotions. To improve value to clients, attorneys need to overcome selective listening and become better at not just ascertaining the facts but also being cognizant of their clientsí emotions.
Keeping clients informed of the different stages of their case is important, particularly in the area of litigation, where activity happens in fits and bursts. Clients need to know that their relationship with the attorney is ongoing during the duration of the case.
Finally, clients have a tendency to start complaining about billings, particularly when they donít feel they are receiving value. To overcome this, law firms must provide results with the fewest billable hours possible and inform clients how they can reduce legal fees by taking proactive measures. That means changing the billable hour pressure on attorneys, allowing the firmsí attorneys to think in terms of the needs of the client. Of course, when you come up with alternative solutions that reduce fees significantly, itís essential to let the client know how much money was saved.
Being a good law firm with the appropriate skills is only part of the equation of law firm success. Clients expect technical competence. The key to success is the commitment to delivering service of premium value to your clients. When you deliver that service, your marketing dollars will be more cost-effective and it will be easier to stand apart from the competition.
This article is reprinted with permission from the MARCH 26, 2007 issue of the New Jersey Law Journal. ©2007 ALM Properties, Inc. Further duplication without permission is prohibited. All rights reserved.
Paramjit Mahli is with Sun Communications Group of New York, N.Y., a marketing and public relations company that works primarily with small law firms.
The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of ILW.COM.