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Unique client communication approach gives small firm a huge marketing advantage

Like many small firms, one Michigan office operates in a precarious environment. With only two attorneys and four staff, it faces heavy competition from larger firms as well as from firms opening satellite offices.

And because the city itself is small, the client prospect pool is limited, says the administrator of the office.

So the firm devised a beginning-to-end-of-the-matter communication approach to set itself apart from the competition. It ensures clients see the attorneys as approachable. It also ensures that they feel comfortable telling the attorneys about issues with staff, the bill, or the way a matter is being handled.

The procedure also keeps the clients in constant contact with the firm and aware of everything that’s going on in their matters.

The attorneys believed the free communication would make clients return with more business and also send referrals. And they were right. Despite the heavy competition and despite the tight economy, the firm has seen an increase in revenues.

More than just the usual

The communication starts with a welcome package for new clients. Like most packages, it carries the firm’s history, attorney and staff contact information, office hours, payment policies, and whatever forms the client needs to fill out. But that’s just the beginning. Also in the package is a bulleted “what to expect” information sheet. It answers all the questions clients commonly have in the type of matter being pursued—divorce, criminal matter, or whatever.

The sheets explain the basic things an attorney takes for granted but a client doesn’t necessarily know such as how long it takes to complete a divorce or what happens during a bankruptcy proceeding.

The clients like that, she says, because it tells them what’s going to happen. Another item is an outline of the firm’s policy for returning calls, and included with that is a list of whom to call during an emergency or if there is a question about the services or about the bill.

And then there’s a simple education section. Again, what it covers is basic to the attorneys, but not to the clients. For example, it tells clients to write down their questions before calling the attorney so as not to forget anything. It also lists the note-taking supplies to have available during conferences.

All that goes to the client before there’s any engagement, she says, and many times it’s enough to set the firm apart from the two or three attorneys the client is considering.

Seizing the moment

Once a prospect becomes a client, the firm sends a letter that confirms the new business relationship and includes the retainer agreement. But beyond that, the letter encourages the client to call if questions arise about the service or the fee. And at the same time, it invites the client to refer family and friends to the firm.

That letter goes out immediately so there’s no question about the relationship. And speed is important. She cites one situation where a teenage client’s father retained the firm but the teenager didn’t realize that and was still interviewing other firms.

No? Well, don’t forget us

Even the prospects who don’t retain the firm get a letter. It carries a thank you for considering the firm. But it also outlines the firm’s other practice areas and invites the client to call if further need for legal services arises.

Questions at the 30-day mark

The same emphasis on communication continues after the work begins. At 30 days, another letter goes out, again, inviting the client to discuss concerns and questions. The attorney says it’s been 30 days since the work began and “if you have any questions as to what direction your case is heading, if you are confused on any matter, or if you just have questions, please contact my office so we may discuss them.”

It also says that the firm is conscious of cost: “It’s our objective to provide you with quality service at an affordable price. If there is anything you think our office could do to provide our services more efficiently, please let me know.”

That letter solves a lot of problems while they are still in their minor stages, the Michigan administrator says. And sometimes they are little things the firm could not otherwise have known about such as “I’d rather have my bill come to my post office box instead of my street address.”

Will you call us again?

The communication rolls on even after the matter is over. At that point, the firm sends a thank-you letter plus a client satisfaction survey. It asks for ratings in office convenience, ease of reaching the attorney, the speed of call returns, whether the attorney explained things clearly, and whether the client was shown courtesy. It also asks about staff’s helpfulness, whether the client got copies of all the documents, and whether there was concern for the client.

Then it asks if the client would engage the firm to handle another matter and if the client would refer a friend to the firm.

And finally, there’s a pointed question: “Is there anything specific you believe we could have done better?” The office takes those remarks quite seriously, she says. In fact, the call-return policy came right out of the survey.

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