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Your clients may have been satisfied, even elated, with your service delivery a year ago, but in this economy things can change quickly. Your understanding of your clients’ needs may no longer be valid, and you may not even know it. Studies tell us that when firms are fired, they rarely see it coming. And in today’s climate, clients have a ready built “excuse” to find another firm. So how do you avoid being one of those who never saw it coming? The key is to give clients what they need, in the way that they need it. In other words, excel at customized client service. Here’s how.
1. Invest in knowing your clients. Get to really know their business, even when it’s not matter specific (especially when it’s not matter specific). How have your clients’ businesses changed in the last six months? You need to understand their overall industry as well as the personal challenges they face. How do your clients fit into the current industry structure? How is that structure changing, and how will that change affect them? Who are the key decision makers at the client? What’s the corporate culture and the risk tolerance? Is the client a leader, setting best practices, or in need of direction on best practices?
2. Look back . Seek feedback from clients about your services. You’ll be surprised by how much value you’ll garner merely by asking for the opportunity. But beyond goodwill, you want a frank appraisal. Engage in this process systematically, while trying to view things from the client’s perspective. Ask them what you do well, what you should keep doing, and what could be improved. Ask what service expectations they have for top-tier providers and on what basis they are hiring firms these days. Also, how do they evaluate a firm’s services? Most important, remember that it is not your turn to talk. The client must feel, unequivocally, that you have heard what he or she had to say.
3. Look ahead. What are your clients’ goals? How do they define success? Make certain you and the client have the same understandings of the business objectives of the matter. Never assume you know what the client needs by way of outcome. There are many factors beyond the pure legal that inform the client’s decision. Know what they are.
4. Partner with your client on fees. Whether or not you broach the question of alternative fee arrangements, you can increase your focus in the fees arena. Check in with clients regarding costs. If asked to prepare budgets or estimate costs, stick to them and report variances quickly. Ask if the client has specific administrative billing needs, and follow the client’s billing guidelines.
5. Communicate, communicate, communicate. It seems simple, but this point cannot be overemphasized. Be interested. Ask questions. Never assume. Ask more questions. Listen with an open mind. The more you really hear what the client says, the better your chances of delivering top-tier service.
Martha E. Candiello is a lawyer and principal of ClientBridge, LLC, specializing in obtaining client insights on state-of-the-art service delivery to help lawyers create business opportunities.