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CLIENT RELATIONS

Is this essential ingredient missing from your firm’s customer service?

If you believe that your law firm offers exceptional customer service, you might want to think again, says Kelli Proia, a Rhode Island-based intellectual property attorney and founder of Lawducate, a business education firm for lawyers.

Proia says the customer service component is sadly lacking in the legal business as a whole, adding that too many lawyers focus on the work they are doing for their clients, rather than on their business and their clients.

“I have two golden rules of customer service. The first rule is: see the person sitting across the table from you, not the legal matter. People want to be treated as people. They don’t want you to think of them as bankruptcy number 9508,” she says.

Her second golden rule is: treat your clients as you would like to be treated if you ever found yourself in their shoes.

“Better yet, if your mother ever found herself in your client’s shoes, how would you want the lawyer to treat your mother?” asks Proia.

“The ultimate question is would you want to be your own client?”

What is customer service?

Proia defines customer service as “everything that we do to make our clients happy.” That doesn’t necessarily mean that you are going to get them a lot of money or a great result.

It boils down to giving them a positive experience while they are navigating a difficult time in their lives, such as a divorce, home foreclosure or bankruptcy.

Proia’s equation for customer happiness is:

Meet + greet + listen + respond + deliver + delight = customer satisfaction.

In her many years of dealing with law firms, Proia says she has found that the “delight” component of the equation frequently is missing.

“This is the best way you can differentiate your law firm from every other firm in the country and in the world,” she says.

Happy clients will always recommend your firm to the people they know, according to Proia, who adds, “It the cheapest, easiest marketing you can do.”

Proia says client happiness involves two main areas, communication and customer service.

Communication, the means of connection between people, happens either directly or indirectly.

“Indirect communication deals with the attitude that we bring to any situation that we are in—the level of compassion and empathy that we show.”

It also translates into the level of helpfulness that people show while dealing with one another.

“We really do judge books by their covers. We are communicating things by our appearance—our personal appearance and also the appearance of our office and the appearance of our website and our social media presence,” she says.

Lawyers communicate with three basic groups of people; their coworkers, their clients and to the world at large through marketing and any interactions they have as individuals.

Some of this communication occurs in powerful, yet subtle ways, starting from the moment a client walks through your door. Proia recalls entering a law firm’s reception room that had a super-uncomfortable couch and nothing interesting for clients to read while waiting for their appointments. That’s hardly a good start for a strong lawyer-client relationship.

Proia says every one of your clients has a platform that reaches worldwide—the Internet—which is a giant microphone for them. They can easily go online and praise or slam their experience with your law firm.

“If you make them feel bad or feel nothing, they are going to talk about that. If you make them feel good, they’ll talk about that as well.”

A dozen ways to make your clients happy

How can you make your clients happy?

Proia says client happiness doesn’t take care of itself. Your firm has to work to establish and maintain it. It starts with having a plan and a process in place for achieving it.

When clients come in to your office, they are often fearful and uncertain of the outcome. You need to think about every aspect of your business, from booking an appointment, to how your receptionist greets clients, to what it is like to receive and pay a bill.

Here are several of Proia’s best practices for improving the connection between lawyers and clients and making clients happy.

  1. Define your customer service standard.
  2. Integrate customer service into your law firm’s culture. Culture is basically the way you do things in your firm. It will dictate how your employees work together, how they do their jobs and how they treat their clients. Developing a great culture starts with a vision set by leaders in your firm and thinking about why your firm exists. Don’t say it’s to make money. Have values. Name them, own them, and live them. Hire amazing people who fit the culture that you want to have. Offer “wow” experiences.
  3. Before meeting a client, give clear directions to your office and nearby parking areas.
  4. Do some research on your clients on LinkedIn or Facebook before meeting face-to-face. You might find you have things in common such as having attended the same university or that you love the same sports team. Such connections can help you form a quick bond with your clients.
  5. Remember that it’s not about you. Proia says law firms need to stop using words such as we, I, and us in their brochures, on their websites and when talking to clients. They need to start talking about their clients’ needs, wants and issues. You are selling a solution to somebody’s problem, so rather than talk about yourself and your firm, talk about your client and the problem you can help him or her solve.
  6. Listen more and talk less. You can nod, agree and ask clarifying questions, but only once the client has finished talking should you start talking about solutions to their issues.
  7. Speak in plain English, not legalese.
  8. Communicate with your clients. Call them, send an email or a letter, and send electronic alerts any time there is a change in their file. Call periodically to check in with them. Say “I’m thinking about you. Your case is still on my desk. Nothing has happened with it but I’ll contact you as soon as I hear something from the judge.”
  9. Set and manage client expectations and keep things realistic. Don’t give clients false hope.
  10. Provide bonuses. Put helpful information on your website. Make sure it has something useful to say—some type of teaching component or useful information. Offer checklists, e-books and anything else that makes it easier for clients to work with you. Make house calls if you are dealing with elderly clients. Offer out-of-hours service to suit your clients’ needs.
  11. Once a case is resolved, call your client a few months later to see how he or she is doing.
  12. Embrace client feedback after a case is concluded. Have clients fill out a customer satisfaction survey. Would they recommend you to a friend or family member? If not, why not?

Conclusion

Remember that happy clients will do business with your firm again and again. Providing elements of delight can be your best competitive advantage.


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