You are in for a treat today, while I’m away at the ILN’s Regional Meeting of the Americas – we have a very special guest post! We’re welcoming Joanne Thorud, the Director of Marketing for the ILN’s Boston member, Davis, Malm & D’Agostine. She’s talking about one of my favorite subjects – client service – and shares with us an excellent post on why communication is so important in keeping clients happy. 

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Last week, I attended the Legal Marketing Association New England’s annual regional conference in Boston. The theme of this year’s conference was Simplify to Maximize. There were a dozen programs and over 30 speakers who presented topics focused on cutting through clutter and static and delivering clear and concise messages. One message that resounded in almost every program I attended was communication is key to maximizing client relationships. It is not a new or revolutionary concept, but it is extremely relevant, especially in today’s legal climate.

The conference kicked off on Thursday night with a presentation by Laura Meherg and Tara Weintritt of Wicker Park Group. The program focused on client feedback and included a 20 minute mock client interview with Daniel Weintraub, General Counsel and Managing Director of Audax Group. During the mock interview, we learned things such as what gets outside counsel hired and fired, where client pain points exist, and what we can do to help alleviate them. Laura and Tara also shared with us the top three questions obtained over years of performing client interviews:

  1. Can you fix my problem?
  2. Will you make my life easier?
  3. Do I enjoy you as a person?

Clients ultimately determine value, so the best way to ensure we are not only providing quality legal services but also adding value to our clients is to simply ask. Here are six points to consider:

  • One size does not fit all; one size fits one. Client needs are unique, so learn preferences at the outset of a matter and tailor your efforts accordingly. For example, ask your client how they like to communicate or how frequently they would like to receive updates. You may learn that a client prefers to correspond through Excel or PowerPoint documents.
     
  • Know your client’s business. It is not only important to know about your client’s industry, but also understand their business culture. One panelist indicated that he would welcome an attorney spending a day with him to learn how he and his team operate and how they like things done. Investing time with your clients provides valuable insight, reinforces your commitment to the relationship, and can potentially give you a competitive advantage over other firms.
     
  • Offer “off-the-clock” time. When you assist a client and they do not have them worry about being invoiced for it, you have made their life easier. For newly engaged clients or clients who have moved to a different company, offer to review documents that will give you a better understanding of the company and how it operates. Also, clients sometimes just want to talk through an issue before opening a matter. Being available to act as a sounding board keeps you top of mind when situations arise. Clients are accountable for their legal spending, and their salaries and bonuses often depend not only on successful outcomes, but also on budget management. Remember that generosity breeds loyalty.
     
  • Understand your client’s roles. Clients are often charged with tasks outside of their “usual” day-to-day responsibilities. Ask what those tasks are and determine if there are ways you can assist them. Another thing to remember for clients who employ multiple outside firms is bill review can be tedious and time consuming. Be mindful of this and learn if there is a way for you to simplify your invoices.
     
  • Help your clients raise their profile. General counsel at the conference indicated they would welcome co-authoring articles or sitting on panels at events sponsored by firms, so long as the topics related to their industries. This is a great way to help your clients gain exposure as thought leaders in their industries and helps put their companies in the public eye.
     
  • Don’t try to cross-sell new business if you haven’t first asked how you’re doing with existing work. It was very clear from one general counsel that new work will cease coming your way if you do this.

While it is ideal to debrief with clients shortly after matters have wrapped up to gauge their satisfaction of service throughout the engagement and with the ultimate outcome, it is never too late to ask for feedback. One general counsel who works with 20 law firms and spends over $20 million per year in legal fees indicated that only one firm has conducted a feedback interview in the past 18 months.

We might think asking clients to take time to assess our services is burdensome to them. However, they view the request as a reflection of our commitment to work quality, client satisfaction, and maintaining relationships. We may also think the exercise is futile and unnecessary because we already know how our clients feel about us. Do not be so sure. We should not assume that clients will tell us if and when a problem arises.

With the end of the year fast approaching, now is the perfect time to schedule a post-holiday meeting with people you have not recently checked-in with. Whether you plan to meet at their office or take them to dinner, one thing to remember is the purpose for this meeting is to learn about how you are measuring up to their expectations, not to solicit new business. Focus on asking questions that will help you gauge satisfaction with the services you are providing. A few suggested by the Wicker Parker group are:

  • What did we do well?
  • What could we have done better or differently?
  • How can we improve our services?
  • Would you refer us to others?
  • How can we add value to the relationship in ways that don’t show up on the bill?
  • What are your greatest challenges in achieving success/goals (within a department, the company, or personally)?
  • Is there anything else you’d like to discuss?

Our brands live in the stories clients tell others. We take great care in branding our firms and honing our messages, so it only makes sense for us to take the time to ensure the stories people tell about us convey positive client experiences.

It is no longer enough for attorneys to just do good work. We must differentiate the services we provide and deliver them to clients in ways that add value. The reality is that law firms are competing for the same business, and your clients are always up for grabs. Now is not the time to sit silent. You should be asking questions that will help leverage feedback and strengthen relationships. Rest assured your competitors are.

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Joanne Thorud is the Director of Marketing at the law firm of Davis, Malm & D’Agostine, P.C. in Boston. She is responsible for the firm’s strategic marketing and business development efforts, including public relations, content and website management, event planning and management, social media presence, and budgeting. Joanne has been a professional in the legal industry for over 25 years. She is an active member of the Legal Marketing Association’s New England Chapter. She currently serves as Co-Chair for the Small Firm SIG and has been a member of the Program Committee for the past two years. She is also Co-Chair for the 2015 Regional Conference.