Lawyers are trained to provide the best work product—but is that really what’s most important to clients? In our drive to turn around high-quality substance in short time frames, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that law is a service industry—meaning that the objective quality of our work product might not be what’s most important to our clients. Consider that most of the time, your clients aren’t experts in the area of law that you may practice, and thus probably aren’t in the best position to gauge whether your work product is good or not. But if they don’t like the way you interact with them, they will take their legal needs elsewhere and may share their experience with others, which can negatively impact an attorney’s reputation and a firm’s goodwill.
Client satisfaction not only affects client retention and a firm’s reputation but is also a key driver of growth. According to the 2019 Clio Legal Trends Report, referrals are still the most common way people find an attorney. Understandably, clients that have a pleasant experience working with you are highly likely to send more business your way in the future. In an age when BigLaw firms are spending roughly 2% of their budget on marketing and business development, it’s important to remember that satisfied clients are a firm’s most powerful marketing channel.
What Will Satisfy Your Clients?
So what matters most to clients, and what are the best ways to keep them satisfied? When are clients most likely to terminate a relationship with an attorney, and when are they most likely to refer their attorney to another potential client? Several factors impact how likely a client is to refer their attorney to another potential client, and according to the Clio Legal Trends Report, most prominent among these are responsiveness, costs, a lawyer’s “bedside manner” and ease of understanding. And when shopping for a lawyer – whether by way of a referral or through their own search – potential clients have indicated that in finding a lawyer they are confident is right for them, information matters most – information about a lawyer’s experience and credentials, an estimate of the total cost of their case, and a clear understanding of the legal process and what to expect.
These findings are reinforced by other surveys that indicate that clients want lawyers who are available, responsive, and communicative. Lawyers who not only understand their needs and their business, but who can anticipate their needs, and provide creative, resourceful value-oriented solutions with their client’s best interests in mind.
On the flip-side, common client complaints relate to billing, perceived shortcomings in lawyer-client communications, such as a lack of availability and responsiveness. According to some estimates, a substantial majority of clients who stopped working with a certain lawyer did so because they feel they had been treated indifferently or poorly, and at least 25% switched lawyers because they felt their former lawyers were not available enough.
In today’s competitive legal environment, in which more lawyers and firms are competing for fewer clients, competency and expertise are no longer sufficient to gain clients’ trust or loyalty. To truly distinguish themselves and the service they provide, law firms (and individual lawyers) must deliver great client service and keep clients satisfied.
How to Reduce Friction with Clients
Keeping clients satisfied comes down to reducing common friction points, like billing, mismatched communication patterns, and mismanaged expectations, relating to cornerstone aspects of legal work, such as deadlines and billing. Based on my years of experience practicing law at two of the largest law firms in Israel, I’ve provided some best practices below:
- Communicate clearly regarding costs upfront to avoid frustration later on regarding billing. If your firm is charging by the hour, keep the client in the loop about how long something might take, and provide detailed timesheets. Use technology like ZERØ’s passive time capture and narrative generator feature on mobile to produce more accurate and detailed timesheets.
- Use technology like ZERØ to reduce your administrative load, freeing you up to tackle substantive work and meet client expectations and short timeframes with less stress. What’s more, reducing the stressors that drain you of the mental and emotional energy needed to creatively take on complex issues, as well as practice patience and empathy, is crucial for establishing and maintaining positive relationships with clients in the long-term.
- Mistakes happen—so if you make a mistake, own up to it. Your clients may even respect you more when you do, especially if you apologize sincerely—owning up to mistakes is a sign of humility. It lets clients know that you care more about your relationship with them than your pride. What they won’t appreciate is lies or excuses, which points to arrogance and pride.
How to Foster Long-Term Client Satisfaction
Like any other relationship, maintaining a positive relationship with clients comes down to communication, trust/honesty, openness, and rapport. Tips for long-term client satisfaction include:
- Be friendly and humble. Avoid arrogance in manner and tone, and treat clients like you’d like to be treated. Let clients make their own decisions—recognize that you don’t know everything and that sometimes a client may choose to go in a different direction than the one you advised. So long as you fulfill your ethical and professional duty, inform them of all possible pros and cons—but the decision to make is theirs, not yours. Being overly controlling, upset, or disappointed can rub clients the wrong way and sour a relationship.
- Ask, don’t assume. When does the client want something delivered? What kind of communication does your client prefer? Simplify, streamline, and automate communications channels when possible. Compose and use templates for everything from engagement letters to scheduling meetings, and use ZERØ to seamlessly integrate these when communicating with clients on mobile.
- Empathy is a critical element in the delivery of any services, especially legal services. Whether you’re a transactional lawyer or a litigator, understand that clients are coming to you for advice and guidance as they navigate stressful waters. Each client is unique—listen to them as individuals. Understand their needs and concerns, the pressures they’re facing, and the set of circumstances they’re in. Sometimes empathy may just mean just letting clients vent. Other times it might mean saying something as simple as “I’m sorry you’re going through this,” or, “I understand.”
- Show your clients that you care—that you appreciate their business, and value your relationship with them. Showing appreciation creates loyalty.f you don’t show your client that you care, you risk losing them to the competition. You can do this by listening to them, taking an interest in their lives, keeping your promises to them, recalling personal details they’ve shared with you, or touching base with them after the matter has finished. And always remember to acknowledge when a client has given you a referral!
- When making hiring & staffing decisions, look for empathetic, well-rounded employees with both emotional intelligence and high cognitive capacity. In a similar vein, invest in client service training for receptionists to avoid poor first impressions and missed opportunities.
- Manage and meet expectations—or, in other words, “Do what you said you’d do when you said you’d do it.” But just as crucial as managing expectations is meeting them, and doing this well requires making sure that expectations are realistic in the first place—that is, adapt to what’s wanted, within reason. Failing to meet an unrealistic expectation is worse than meeting a realistic one (even if it’s later than what the client initially hoped for). And working around the clock to meet unrealistic expectations breeds resentment that’s hard to hide.
- Aim to touch base and update your client as frequently as possible. Managing expectations and meeting time frames are essential—and so is making sure your client knows what’s going on. The more clients feel like they are in the loop, the less likely they are to feel blindsided by a bill later on or file a claim for malpractice.
- Lawyers and firms keen on boosting client satisfaction should actively invite clients to share feedback and really listen to what their clients have to say—both the good and the bad—in order to improve their services. Although a small percentage of attorneys regularly collect formal client feedback (roughly 4% according to the Clio Legal Trends Report), attorneys stand to not only boost client satisfaction but usher in new business opportunities if they make serious efforts to measure client satisfaction. There are several ways to gauge client satisfaction: from in-person interviews, phone calls, to electronic, mid-matter, and end-of-matter surveys. One effective way to determine how to improve is by asking clients how likely they would be to recommend a firm or attorney’s service using the 1-10 scale (otherwise known as the Net Promoter Score). If a client ranked services at 7-8, ask what would need to change for them to give a 9 or 10. Use positive feedback to roll out new marketing strategies and highlight your strengths.
- End on a high note! Make yourself available for questions and comments after delivering your work product to make sure that your work product is understood, and implemented smoothly to ensure success—even if that means making improvements down the road.