Educate them!

I’m serving as an officer in the ABA Section of Science and Technology Law, and I’ve been on the planning committee for an upcoming conference that will be useful for many readers. So….. 

Please Join Us at the Third Annual Internet of Things National Institute in Washington, DC on May 9-10!

We live in a connected world, where billions of vehicles, buildings, process control devices, wearables, medical devices, and other “smart” objects are wirelessly connecting to and communicating with each other. The “Internet of Things” is raising unprecendented legal and liability issues and becoming one of the hottest new law practice areas.

Visit here to view the program agenda, and register here before the early-bird rate expires.

 


One of my favorite self-care activities is getting a massage. I tend to tighten my shoulders when I’m working intently, and despite stretching, the end of a major project almost always finds me feeling as if there’s a hot spear piercing my left shoulder.  

A friend recently told me about a chain of stores that offer inexpensive massages, and I’ve noticed a proliferation of clinic signs promising slashed prices. I’ve been sticking with my favorite massage therapist because she’s fantastic and I like her tremendously… But those signs kept showing up, and I found myself wondering if perhaps I should check out cheaper massage options and save some money. But I wondered if the massage would be as effective and relaxing. Would I save money, or would I waste it? 

I tell you this story not to discuss my massage habits, but because this is the thought process that your clients may go through when they become aware of another service provider who charges less. It’s human nature, especially when times are tight, to notice and to consider investigating a deal. But we all know that a “deal” isn’t always a deal.  

How can you help your clients distinguish a deal from a sub-optimal service?   

Educate your clients. 
While I was mulling massage options, I received a newsletter from my favorite spa that offered a series of questions to ask a reduced-price competitor, inquiring about important massage aspects such as the training/experience of the therapists and the atmosphere in which the services are performed. The questions qualify the preferred provider – in this instance, the spa – as the ideal, but they’d also allow me to vet competitors to see whether another option might be a good deal.

WHAT? Tell potential clients that someone else is offering a good deal? Why would you do that? When you give candid information that may cut against your economic interest, clients recognize it, and it tends to raise your credibility.  When your credibility goes up, it becomes more likely that they’ll trust you when you tell them that in situation A, it’s fine to use a cut-rate provider, but in situation B, they’ll come out ahead by paying more and working with you. And when you gain client trust, all manner of good things begin to happen.

To educate your clients and potential client market in this way, take these steps:

  1. Who are your competitors? Who offers the same services to meet the same needs (your direct competitors) and who offers different service to meet the same needs (your indirect competitors)? To continue the massage example, other massage therapists are the spa’s direct competitors. Yoga studios, gyms, aromatherapy solutions, and many other modalities can credibly claim to help with physical tension that results from stress, and those other service providers are indirect competitors.  

  2. How are you different from your direct competitors? Why is massage better than yoga for addressing stress-induced tightness and pain? Why should a business planning to incorporate hire you rather than using LegalZoom?  

  3. Once you’ve identified what sets you apart, decide how you can communicate that to your potential clients.  Maybe it’s a newsletter, like my favorite spa sent. Or you might write an article that compares and contrasts your services with others.  Perhaps you’ll weave it into conversation.

However you communicate your distinguishing factors, make sure you provide both emotional and rational distinctions. You have more experience (rational), which means that you can give clear guidance about a convoluted situation (emotional). Because you’ve been through an experience like your client’s (emotional), you’re able to identify the steps that will have the biggest impact for your client (rational).

Instead of worrying about competition, educate your clients and turn obstacles into opportunity.
  

Meeting Client Expectations… Or Not.

One of the top client complaints received by bar associations across the country has to do with lawyers’ failure to return telephone calls.  I haven’t seen statistics, but I suspect that clients also complain about lawyers who fail to answer email.  Clients expect that their lawyer will communicate with them in a timely manner, and on the surface, just about all lawyers agree.  And the same is true for other service providers, including those who don’t have a professional oversight board of some sort.

But we’ve all had that annoying client.  You know, the one who is constantly on the phone or sending yet another email with an unnecessary question or comment.  The one who is so insistent on knowing when a task will be completed that it may feel like you won’t have time to do the work unless you “ignore” the client for a while.  And even if you don’t have one of those clients, you’re probably still swimming in telephone calls and emails – we all are these days.

So, how do you deal with client expectations about communications?  If you meet every expectation, you’ll add dramatically to your workload and you may worry that your clients will dictate how you operate your business; if you don’t meet expectations, you may find yourself on the wrong end of a complaint, or you may discover that dissatisfied clients are telling their friends and colleagues about your [perceived] poor service.

Have a conversation with your clients about communications at the time of engagement.  The most dangerous expectations are those that go unexpressed.  If, for example, a client is expecting a weekly check-in and you don’t realize that, it’s probably a safe bet that the client will quickly feel dissatisfied and either start clamoring for attention or silently smoldering.  If you ask what the client expects, you’ll have an opportunity to meet that expectation.

And, you may choose not to meet the client’s expectations.  When there’s nothing pressing, for instance, you may not communicate with the client for some period of time.  If you bill based on time, unnecessary communications will run up your client’s bill (perhaps creating greater dissatisfaction), and if you use a flat fee arrangement, unnecessary communications can eviscerate your profit.

When you discuss expectations, you can respond to what your client expects by sharing your own expectations.  Some clients will be satisfied when they understand when and why you communicate (especially if you agree to communicate in the manner your client prefers), some may negotiate with you in some way, and some may choose not to hire you.  Regardless of the outcome, both of you will come out ahead for having had the conversation.

“Welcome!”


I’m serving as an officer in the ABA Section of Science and Technology Law, and I’ve been on the planning committee for an upcoming conference that will be useful for many readers. So…..

Please Join Us at the Third Annual Internet of Things National Institute in Washington, DC on May 9-10!
We live in a connected world, where billions of vehicles, buildings, process control devices, wearables, medical devices, and other “smart” objects are wirelessly connecting to and communicating with each other. The “Internet of Things” is raising unprecendented legal and liability issues and becoming one of the hottest new law practice areas.
 
Register for the Internet of Things National Institute to:

  • Gain insights and practical guidance on the latest legal, legislative, regulatory and liability issues of the IoT transformation.
  • Explore IoT hot topics: privacy, cybersecurity, litigation, artificial intelligence, healthcare, ethics and more.

Receive 2 days of CLE Credit while attending the program that previous attendees have called “magical,” “eye-opening,” with “rock star” speakers, and overall “a grand slam.”

Who Should Attend:
 Lawyers (litigation, corporate, IT, IP, health law, etc.), regulators, legislators, policymakers, developers, manufacturers, service providers, marketers, business executives, privacy and security professionals, academics and students.

Visit here to view the program agenda, and register here before the early-bird rate expires.


What greeting do your clients receive when they contact your office?  Do clients feel that they’re welcome?  Or are they ever left with the impression that they’re interrupting something more important?

How your staff handles client contact (or how you handle it, if your practice doesn’t include staff members) will have a significant, though probably unspoken, impact on your client engagements.  What’s more, whoever answers the telephone and greets visitors constitutes the first line of your marketing team, since satisfying current clients may lead to repeat business and referrals.

We so easily fall into the trap of thinking that lawyers provide client service and that receptionists, legal assistants, secretaries, and other staff members provide administrative support that really doesn’t constitute client service.  While that may be true on one level, it’s wise to consider how much contact the average client has with your staff as opposed to with you.  Unless you’re a sole practitioner without an assistant, chances are reasonably good that the first person your client speaks with is a staff member.  The client will then engage with you with that first impression in mind.

It’s easy to identify and weed out those who deliver obviously unacceptable client contact.  The example that comes to mind is one I overheard a few years ago while waiting for a colleague to get off a call so we could talk: “Well, [Mr. Smith], I know you think you’re [lawyer’s] only client, but you aren’t!”  Fortunately, someone who would make a comment like that is generally either retrained or fired with haste.

But what about the subtle effects of less-offensive but thoughtless behavior?  Have you ever stepped back to observe how non-attorney staff in your office interacts with your clients?

Take a lesson from an Atlanta law firm receptionist who turns visitors into welcome guests simply by greeting each visitor as if he matters.  Janette engages every person who walked in.  She knows returning clients, asks how their travel have been, and makes them feel welcome.  When she meet someone new, she exchanges a few comments with them — not the kind of chatter that can annoy someone already on edge, just some niceties that pave the way for further conversation if the visitor so desires.  Every person who walks in is greeted, made welcome, and appreciated.

Here are a few areas to consider as you question what your staff contributes to client relations:

  • Does the receptionist greet visitors with a smile and a friendly word? Especially in the last few years, many staff members have been asked to do more work with fewer resources, and stress has increased.  It’s important not to allow that stress to reach the client.
  • How are telephones answered? Answering by barking out a business name may be efficient, but it’s hardly welcoming.
  • Are clients treated as valued guests and recognized as individuals rather than being lumped together as interchangeable units whose primary characteristic is willingness to pay your invoice?
  • Are basic courtesies observed in communications? For example, if emailing an invoice, is a cover note included thanking the client for his or her business?
  • Do you introduce clients to your staff members, or are staff members simply nameless, faceless people who interact with clients when you’re unavailable? A simple introduction can transform a staff member from being regarded as only a gatekeeper to being viewed as a valuable resource.

Notice what’s happening when your clients and potential clients interact with your staff.    If it’s a negative contribution, how can you help to create a shift?  And if it’s a positive contribution, do you acknowledge and reward it?