Are you retaining clients as often as they retain you? There’s an old business notion that it costs far less to keep a customer than it does to find a new one—and it’s true. While you should always be drawing in new business, it’s just as important to keep your client base consistent. And it’s easier too. People are easily pleased if they feel valued, and you can encourage that sense of value through amazingly simple means. Here are a few ways law firms can improve client service, quite often without making any major investments.
That First Meeting
This should be obvious, but if you aren’t making a potential client’s first contact with you and your company a positive experience, you won’t see them a second time. When you set up a consultation, schedule a time and keep to it. Sometimes rescheduling can’t be helped, but the reason better be a true emergency and a one-time occurrence. Meet with the potential client when you say you will, and keep the experience friendly, illuminating, and structured. Professionalism is key, and your client will be making mental and even physical notes about your language, behavior, appearance, and knowledge. Put them at ease as far as asking questions and making comments are concerned.
At the end of the meeting, if you’ve decided to take their case, detail the next steps, collect their information, and schedule a time for your next meeting. If you choose to decline representing them for whatever reason, be polite but clear. Consider recommending another attorney or offering advice on their next step. Even if you need to turn a client down, you can always turn the situation into a future opportunity. As the old saying goes, people will forget what you said or did, but they will never forget how you made them feel.
Keep the Lines of Communication Open
It is almost impossible not to stay in touch with someone these days. Between phone calls, emails, texting, and social media, there is always an opportunity for you to reach your clients—and, more importantly, for them to reach you. Ensure that your clients know how they can contact you or someone at your firm who can help them immediately. But here’s a tip: avoid circumstances where they feel the need to reach out to you. If clients are kept informed about the status of their case or other circumstances, they are much less likely to resort to repeated calls, emails, and texts. Figure out a way to keep them up to date, perhaps through a portal or regular call or email. Manners cost nothing, and once again, clients will appreciate being, well, appreciated.
Figure Out How To Help Them With Expenses
Working with and through the law is an everyday thing for you, but it may not be for your clients. They may be unaware of the lengthy times and great expenses involved in pursuing a civil lawsuit, for example. Take time to explain alternatives for handling costs, such as seeking a loan from a friend or relative or the bank, use of credit, or post-settlement funding for attorneys (which provides additional working capital during a case). These are all ways of receiving cash during the settlement or judgment portion of a civil case. Your clients will truly appreciate your foresight and consideration.
Provide the Occasional “Freebie”
In business, never underestimate the power of the lagniappe—that is, a small gift or discount given to a customer at the point of sale. Pro bono work, of course, performed for those who can’t ordinarily afford legal services is a long-time way to return something to the community. It’s good PR, and you’re doing good work. But in your bread-and-butter cases, consider whether there’s an occasional bit of advice or work you can throw in for nothing (or next-to-nothing) that the client can’t help but notice. While you don’t want to create the impression that you’re just giving away your services, keeping the “freebies” to loyal clients is a grand way to keep their loyalty and letting them know that while you have a business relationship with them, you still think of them as a person and appreciate their business.
Keep Your Office Professional but Open
If a client comes to your office space, what will they see? Cramped, messy, and poorly lit offices? A surly receptionist and attorneys who can’t be bothered to greet them in a friendly and inquiring way? Give your office the once-over and determine if it’s a place where clients want to be. Make the reception area a bright, comfortable, and welcoming place, with a helpful gatekeeper at the desk, refreshments, and a place to sit in comfort. But as cozy as it is, don’t make them wait there too long! Keep track of wait times and try to shave them down to nothing, being sure to immediately and personally greet faithful and regular clients. Offices and meeting rooms should be likewise inviting, with enough seating and staff ready to address a client’s every desire, whether for legal advice or another cup of coffee. Sidenote: keep track of little things, like how they take their coffee, as well as other quirks and habits, and you’ll never be at a loss with that client in the future.
Simplify and Explain
What to know what clients don’t want to hear? Jargon and legalese. They’ve hired you to make the complexities of the law clearer to them. That said, don’t keep clients in the dark, and never let them think that you’re trying to fool or flummox them. Even in the most complex cases, figure out a way to explain the niceties, precedents, terms, and so forth regarding their case in the simplest language possible—and without sounding like you’re condescending to them. It’s a challenge, sure, but isn’t that your job? In that same vein, the country is growing more cosmopolitan every day, so be sure your office is multi-lingual by hiring staff who speak more than one language. It’s one of the best ways law firms can improve client service. Speaking Spanish is a huge bonus, of course, as is being able to speak in a language that gets a lot of extra use in your neighborhood.