Silence May Not Mean Satisfaction

You’ve probably heard it before: it’s much easier to source new business from an existing client than from a non-client. 

You may also know that many clients judge their experience based largely on the day-to-day interactions between you – how well you serve the client, in other words.  Studies show that clients unhappy with the service they receive will not necessarily share that displeasure with you unless it becomes so pronounced that they’re ready to discontinue the relationship and hire someone else instead.  That’s the wrong time to learn that your client is dissatisfied: it’s usually too late to correct the problem and save the relationship.

Last week’s travel reinforced each of those points and, by analogy, provided some insight into what goes right and what can go wrong with client relationships.

Thanks to all the travel I do, I’m a platinum member with Delta.  Some months ago, I had to fly another airline between LA and San Francisco, and it was an eye-opening experience.  It was all about customer service:

  • When I checked in, the agent asked how I was and looked at me while I answered.  The agent chatted with me as he quickly and accurately checked me in and printed my ticket.  He answered my several questions with humor and good information.  This is, unfortunately, not a common experience for me while traveling.
  • Boarding was fast and easy, the seats were comfortable, and the flight was on time despite a late take-off.
  • The flight attendant was pleasant and helpful.
  • My luggage arrived, and it did so quickly.  (Unfortunately, I now mentally bid farewell to my belongings when I have to check a bag, having had two bags delayed for days and one permanently lost.)

Both airlines have always met the key objective of getting me to my ticketed destination safely.   I like Delta (at least, I’m not terribly dissatisfied with Delta) and yet my short trip with Virgin America made me ready to consider choosing to fly with them when I have that option.  And I noticed the differences highlighted above when I next flew on Delta.  It would be a stretch to say I’m now a customer by convenience rather than loyalty, but it would be completely accurate to say that if the circumstances were right, I could be wooed away by another airline.

Could your clients be wooed away?  Have you recently reviewed your client service standards (with help from your staff, if appropriate) to be sure that your clients receive what they need from you?  A few common areas to consider:

  • How quickly do you return telephone calls and answer emails?
  • Do your clients know the people in your business with whom they may need to talk?  An introduction can help clients feel comfortable talking with others; without one, they may feel foisted off or that they aren’t important enough to talk with you directly.
  • Do you make clients welcome and comfortable when they visit your office?
  • Do you communicate with the frequency and in the mode your clients prefer?

These are just a few examples of areas to consider when you’re evaluating your client service.  This week, take a fresh look at opportunities to serve your clients more effectively.  You might even consider asking a few clients how satisfied they are.  (Use an open-ended question like, “Janice, I’d like to make it as easy as possible for you to work with us.  Is there anything I or my staff could do to provide you with better service?”)  Don’t assume that your clients would let you know if they were dissatisfied.

Acknowledge all of the feedback you receive from clients.  While you may be unable to incorporate every suggestion, failing to acknowledge your clients’ responses may deal a fatal blow to your relationship.  And if you can’t incorporate a suggestion, consider explaining why and making an alternative proposal to meet the client’s concern.

Client care: the good, the bad, and the just plain ugly

Studies show that happy clients tell very few of their friends about great client care experiences, while unhappy clients tell (on average) seven other people about problems they experienced.  I’d like to share three client stories that I’ve labeled the good, the bad, and the just plain ugly, each with lessons you can learn about how to treat your clients.

The good:  Good Measure Meals

I’ve previously shared how much I love Good Measure Meals, a service that provides fresh packaged meals that are healthy and taste great.  What I haven’t shared until today is that their customer service makes me even happier than their meals.  When I was unexpectedly out of town for a few days and missed a meal pick-up, Phil sent an email to see if I was ok and to inquire whether I was having any problems with the meals.  When I switched from meal pick-up to delivery one week and mentioned that I’d switch back the next week, Harmony told me that she’d change it back for me, and she called me to let me know that she’d done so.  And when my monthly plan was up for renewal, Harmony again reached out to ask if I wanted to make any changes before the plan renewed.

What can you learn from Good Measure Meals?  Be proactive with your clients.  Look for ways to make it even easier to work with you.  And when you tell a client you’ll do something, do it.

The bad: Unnamed doctor’s office

I had a bad experience in a doctor’s office a few weeks ago. I arrived around 8:25 for an 8:30 appointment and happened to take a seat in the waiting room with a view through the receptionist’s seating area straight through to a back hallway.  While I waited (and watched the minutes tick by), I observed an animated conversation between two members of the doctors’ staff.  The conversation seemed to center on a lampshade that one woman was holding, and it went on for about 15 minutes.  (I remember because I was puzzled how a conversation about a lampshade could last that long, but I digress.)

Imagine my surprise when I was finally called for my appointment around 8:50 – by “Kate,” the woman who’d been talking lampshades.  What did I learn?  That Kate had no regard for my schedule and put interior decorating ahead of patients.  In fact, because the lampshade was on a table in the office I was directed to, I casually mentioned it, only to learn that Kate had purchased the lampshade for her apartment that morning.    And the apology for the delay?  Nonexistent.  I’ve been a patient in this practice for more than thirty years (seeing first the father, then the son), but I won’t be back.

What can you learn from this doctor’s office?  Value your clients’ time.  That means not only being on time for appointments (or apologizing when you’re unavoidably delayed), but also leaving clients sufficient time to review work product, to ask questions, and so on.

The ugly: Unnamed law firm

I recently heard a story that blew my mind.  Short version: a firm represented a client in a divorce.  About two months after the matter was concluded, the client received an invoice for fees incorrectly posted to her file, and as a part of clearing that up, the client requested the return of remaining escrow and trust funds.  A month went by; no funds received.  The client inquired again.  About a week later, she received checks from the firm, addressed in her married name, even though the firm had drafted the final order that (among other things) restored her maiden name.  The client shared that although she had used her maiden name exclusively since contacting the firm, the firm used her married name instead and she didn’t address it because it seemed so petty.  Asked how the rest of the representation went, she snorted and responded, “Well, aside from the fact that my own lawyer didn’t know my name, I suppose it wasn’t bad.”

What can you learn from this law firm?  The obvious answer: use your client’s name and get it right.  Don’t ever put your client in the position of needing to correct or to overlook something so basic.  The deeper lesson is that it’s important to let your client know that you’re paying attention to details.  Although the use of the wrong name didn’t affect the client’s representation, it did make her wonder what other details the firm might be ignoring.  You must not only represent your client well, you must also create the perception that you’re doing so, especially in matters in which your client is unable to judge the merits of the work you’re doing.

The bottom line

We can all ignore the “niceties” of working with clients, focusing instead on the heart of the representation, which is the legal work.  However, your clients will notice everything, and they may evaluate the client service you offer more thoroughly than the legal service.  Switch your way of thinking: if your legal service is the meat of the representation, client service is the bread that holds together the engagement sandwich.

And why does this matter?  Clients are at the heart of your practice.  If you’re seeking to become your clients’ trusted advisor, or to receive referrals from your clients, you must focus on client service. 

Two quotes to hammer this point home:

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

  • Maya Angelou

“Nobody cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.”

  • Theodore Roosevelt

What makes you special?

Every professional has some skill, opportunity, or attribute that few (if any) others can access. You may have heard the marketing acronym USP, which typically stands for Unique Selling Proposition. A USP refers to those distinguishing factors. Identifying your USP is key not only to letting your potential clients know what makes you different and why they should hire you, but also paves the way for your to market yourself in fresh ways.

For example, a Unique Selling Proposition might be that you draw on your background in tax law to support your clients’ licensing needs.  Perhaps you are a divorced father of two who draws on your own life experience in serving divorcing fathers. In either case, you might use the USP you’ve identified to craft a marketing message that answers potential clients’ questions or concerns (some of which they may not even be aware of yet) by highlighting your USP.

To identify your Unique Selling Proposition, ask yourself:

  1. What past experience (professional or personal) bears on your practice?
  2. What skill, knowledge, or experience do you bring to your practice that will be helpful for clients?
  3. What kind of practice-related opportunities can you forecast, and how can you position yourself to meet them?

Another way to think of a USP is as a Unique Service Proposition. How can you serve your clients in new or innovative ways?  In addition to your primary services, can you offer any ancillary services or products that will better meet your clients’ needs? Are there free or reduced-fee services that you might offer as a way of introducing yourself and your skills to a class of potential clients or referral sources?

A Unique Service Proposition might include offering monthly free Q&A meetings during which you respond to potential clients’ questions about topics related to your practice area. For example, if you practice elder law, you might host a monthly gathering to help adult children learn what legal issues they should plan for as they assist their aging parents. You could offer a fee-based group in which you cover key issues in more depth, and you might have certain forms or templates for sale that the adult children could use to implement your suggestions.

Perhaps your practice spans geographic areas in such a way that you don’t often have an opportunity to meet face-to-face with your clients. You might offer videoconferencing or other technology-based communication and collaboration resources to bridge the distance and interact more directly with clients. Since many lawyers still limit their interactions to telephone, email, and mail, you might craft a marketing message around the personal service you offer, the importance of tailoring legal solutions to each individual (or business) and weave in your enhanced communication opportunities.

To identify your Unique Service Proposition, ask yourself:

  1. How can I meet both legal and non-legal needs that my clients frequently present?
  2. How can I build innovative services that will benefit my clients?
  3. What might I do to answer potential client questions, introduce my clients to beneficial resources, or otherwise extend my services in unexpected ways?

Identifying your USPs and using them to craft a marketing message requires analysis, insight, and sometimes even an intuitive leap. Try brainstorming what can distinguish you and your practice with the proviso that no answer is too wacky to be considered.  Sometimes impractical or unpalatable ideas provide the leap to a truly unique marketing message and practice.

Sometimes it’s hard to gain the 30,000-foot perspective necessary to identify what you can harness to distinguish your practice. If you’re having trouble spotting your opportunities, click this link to set up a time to discuss how I might be able to help.