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   Jan/Feb 2002


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PracticeDevelopment

How to Get Clients to Love You: Build the Ties that Bind

Robert W. Denney

Bob Denney (bob@robert denney.com), president of Robert Denney Associates, Inc. , is a strategic marketing and management consultant. He can be reached at (610) 964-1938.

Be honest. Be courteous. Be personal. Know your client’s business and demonstrate your expertise. Build these 27 tips into your daily practice and you’ll earn your clients’ long-term loyalty.

Valentine’s Day isn’t far away, so it’s not too soon to start thinking about love—and more specifically, how to get your clients to love you. Why should you want your clients to love you? Read on.

Several years ago, a managing partner opened his firm’s annual retreat with this statement: "Your clients don’t have to like you. But if you help them solve their problems or achieve their goals, and treat them the way you would like to be treated, they will love you. And clients who love their lawyer are loyal clients who also refer other clients. That’s what we want in this firm—clients who love us."

It’s possible you’ve never thought of your client relationships this way. If, however, you agree with the managing partner’s reasoning, here are ways to make your clients love you.

Say It with Service

? When clients first retain you, take time to learn about them, not just the problem or matter they’re bringing to you.

▪ At the intake, advise them of the issues and steps involved in handling their matter. Discuss the probable timetable and the probable fees (and any expenses) and how they will be billed. Afterward, send a welcome letter in addition to the retainer letter—and do it promptly. Tell them how pleased you are to have them as clients.

▪ On every matter or case, determine the client’s expectations. If necessary, match those expectations with reality or probability.

? Always be honest and truthful. If you don’t know the answer to a question, admit it—but tell the client when you will have the answer. That’s a major step in earning a client’s trust.

▪ To further earn clients’ trust, demonstrate your expertise. Don’t just say you have it. Give examples of other similar matters or cases you have handled.

? Take time when meeting with, or talking to, clients. Don’t act as if you’re doing them a favor. Never talk down to them.

? Unless absolutely necessary, don’t take calls during a client meeting. If you expect a call that you must take, tell the client at the beginning of the meeting and apologize.

? Return phone calls—on the same day if at all possible. If you won’t be able to get back to the caller, have your secretary or assistant call back to ask what he or she can do to help, and to advise when you’ll be able to talk with the client.

? Change your voice mail message every day. If you’re out of the office, say when you’ll be back. If there’s someone else who can help callers (another lawyer in your firm or your assistant), give that person’s name and instructions on how the caller can connect.

? Make your assistant or secretary part of your client service team. Introduce her or him to clients. Always keep your assistant or secretary advised of your schedule and informed about the status of clients’ matters. Half of the time clients call, they don’t need to talk to you if someone else can answer their questions.

? Meet with your clients at their location. Don’t always make them come to your office, particularly if they are handicapped. But don’t bill them for your travel time. That practice ended years ago.

? Visit your clients when there’s no "business" to discuss. But don’t just drop in. Show them the courtesy of calling first to find out if, or when, it would be convenient. Tell them you have been thinking of them, or want to see their new offices, or want to find out how they’re doing. If they’re too busy to see you, don’t pressure them. They’ll still be pleased that you tried.

? Become a valued resource to your clients. Introduce them to people who can help them, such as sources of capital, potential customers and other professionals. Some lawyers develop a list of real estate agents, travel agents, doctors and even baby-sitters.

? Know and understand your clients’ businesses. Offer to go to their industry conferences with them. You don’t need to become an expert—unless it’s an industry in which you want to specialize. But the more you know about their businesses, the better equipped you are to help them. They will also appreciate your interest.

? Offer to hold training seminars for clients and their employees to help them do their jobs better or to avoid situations or problems that would result in legal expenses.

? Remove the term "billing attorney" from your vocabulary. "Responsible lawyer" is a far better term— and one clients will welcome and appreciate.

? When clients come to your office, show the same courtesy you would to a guest in your home. Go to meet them in the reception area, or at least have your assistant or secretary meet them. When your meeting is over, escort them back. And thank them for coming.

? Know your clients’ outside interests and hobbies. Send them articles or information that you come across on those subjects.

? Know their spouses’ names and occupations. Know their children’s names and, if they’re in school, where they go and in what activities they’re involved.

? Send birthday or anniversary cards. Many lawyers send holiday cards, but you show more personal interest if you make the effort to learn birthdays or anniversary dates and then acknowledge them.

▪ Send a card or handwritten note if your client gets promoted or receives an award. Send a sympathy card if there is a death in the immediate family.

? Give your clients your home phone number. They won’t abuse this courtesy. To make them feel even more special, don’t print the number on your business card; write it.

? Keep your clients informed. The old adage "Shower them with paper" is still good advice.

? Don’t be afraid to say the magic words to a client: "Yes, if …" and "No, but …."

? Always include a cover letter with the invoice. If it’s the final bill for a matter, tell the client.

? At the end of a matter or once a year, ask your clients what specific things you can do to improve client service. Listen to them. Thank them for their comments. Then, if at all possible, do what they say.

? Last but never least, treat every client as if he or she were your only client.

Make It Rain Fidelities

To get your clients to love you, you don’t need to send them a Valentine. Just treat them the way you would like to be treated if you were in their shoes. They’ll love you in return and shower you with loyalty and referrals.