Does your firm really spend enough time making sure people are equipped for building client relationships?
I’m sure no law firm would disagree that building client relationships (and indeed a skilled, motivated team) are the lifeblood of a successful firm. However, very few firms spend much time focussing on how their people really need to work with clients and prospects to improve loyalty and encourage them to refer your firm to others, to persuade potential clients to work with you and other contacts to speak favourably about your firm.
If you read my article in Compass recently, you will have seen I explained why lawyers need more than technical skills and knowledge for their careers and so the firm performs well. I also highlighted five key skills that they need to focus on. This article will look at the essential second skill: building relationships with clients and prospects. You can read the first one on personal impact here.
You need to be more than your good legal knowledge and outcomes
Of course, your legal knowledge is essential to help clients get the outcomes they want but most clients and prospects assume that law firms have this – a box ticked. Clients may have heard of some good wins you have achieved and that is very helpful. However, fundamentally as human beings we are not only logical beings, we are emotional too – even lawyers.
Therefore, how your lawyers engage with clients and prospective clients really matters, in fact how anyone at your firm interacts with these people. After all, in a service business, it is the people who are the differentiating factor. In a recent piece of research conducted by Clare Fanner of Find Get Grow Limited, 74% of clients said they had ‘negative’ emotions at the start of a legal matter and that the most important thing they needed from their lawyer/law firm was ‘an understanding of issues’.
Clients and prospects need to feel like a valued client, that their issues are understood, they are understood as an individual and that your firm really wants to help – that it isn’t just another piece of work for your firm. They want to have assurance that they will not only get due process followed but that they will be updated on any key developments, the lawyer they are working with will be proactive with the questions they ask and the suggestions they make and do what they say they will, when they said they would.
Building this trust with clients is of pivotal importance as lawyers are often resolving complex (and often personal) challenges for clients; clients need to feel ‘safe’ in the hands of their lawyer who is the trusted expert they are choosing to help them in a potentially difficult situation.
What to consider when building client relationships
All of this starts from a prospect’s initial engagement with your firm through to the conclusion of their matter, so some simple elements to think about:
1. Consider the most common initial ‘touchpoints’ that your people have with prospects – this could include phone calls, instant messages on your website, meeting your people at networking. How are prospects engaged with at these ‘touchpoints’? Importantly, how are they left feeling? Whether it is a situation with a direct, imminent enquiry or at an event where someone may need your firm’s services in the future, the encounter needs to be overwhelmingly positive and memorable to stand out against all the other conversations with potential lawyers that person may have.
2. Do your people really know how to listen? People, whether approaching a lawyer for a personal or business reason are often in an emotional state of some sort, making sure they are heard and feel understood is pivotal to building that trust.
3. How well your lawyers understand, set and meet expectations with clients related to timing, cost and progress. Being clear what a client can expect when and if that can’t actually happen then ensuring communication occurs to say so and what the next step is. Understanding your client and how they want to be communicated with helps keep problems away e.g. agreeing a regular client update time can also be reassuring and helpful to some clients so they know what to expect and aren’t calling you every 5 minutes. In Clare’s research, 79% of clients said they expected weekly updates on their matter.
4. Ad hoc communication, updating a client on a new development – positive or negative. A client will take it much better if you proactively keep them informed rather than information which comes out later.
5. Staying in touch afterwards – checking in on your client can bring huge rewards as long as it isn’t focussed on looking for more work. Seeing how a client is, how things have progressed relating to the matters you dealt with will keep you top of mind so even if they don’t require more assistance at that point they think of your firm when they do or a friend or colleague does. Clare’s research found that 44% of clients had had no contact from their lawyer after their matter was resolved – I can only imagine the amount of missed work opportunities that sit within that figure.
None of these are rocket science but very few law firms manage all of these consistently well across their firm. When a firm does do these well time after time, the outcome is exponential – clients stay with you despite fee increases and the temptation of other firms, they bring you a wider range of matters to deal with and importantly recommend you to others. What can be easier than winning more work from an existing client or a warm lead?
So what does your firm need to work on? Have standards for building client relationships dropped? Have any been lost recently unnecessarily? Are you getting enough referrals and recommendations? To read more on this area and the others mentioned in the Compass article, request the free Guide here, if you want to talk about your firm and how to improve performance, contact me.
Author: Joanna Gaudoin, Inside Out Image