The Friday Five
Five Ways to Improve Your Clients’ Experience Today
Sometimes it’s the small things that make the biggest difference in life — and in business. From a customer service perspective, the little things can build loyalty more effectively than any advertising or marketing campaign.
You may think the kind of customer service touch points common in retail or other service businesses don’t apply to the legal industry, but think again. Nobody who needs a lawyer’s services is probably very excited about it. You can score big points by making your clients’ experience with you and your firm simple, easy and even pleasant.
What’s It Like to Do Business With You?
The phrase “customer experience” is popular in retail marketing, online and offline, in technology and many other sectors. It’s a great lens to focus on your client base, too, to make sure you’re delivering comprehensive service that is as seamless as possible.
Here are five ways you can improve your clients’ customer experience. Most you can implement today with little investment of time or money.
1. Make your website responsive. The easier it is to find your firm, the better. This may seem obvious, but consider that a year ago Google announced that more searches are taking place on mobile devices than on desktop devices. And this, of course, includes searching for a lawyer. Is your website built using responsive design? This means it automatically changes in format to accommodate different devices, including smartphones, tablets and laptops. WordPress and Square Space are two platforms that easily allow you to create a responsive site. If your site is not already responsive, it’s worth the investment. The opportunity to win new clients by simply having a site that is easy to navigate across devices is big enough to justify the cost.
2. Understand your clients — even the prospective ones. If we’re talking about prospects — whether they email, call, or leave a voicemail — your mastery of who they are, how you can help them, and how quickly you get back to them matters. In today’s world, it’s easy to research and compare products and services. You can bet that every person who reaches out to you is also contacting at least one or two other attorneys. Take careful notes about these individuals. Who are they? What are they calling about? What seems to be their concern? When you respond to the initial inquiry and in your subsequent communications with them, use this information. Call them by their name. Reference the issue or individual that they’ve told you about. Remember the details. They matter. Also, be clear about your commitment to general responsiveness to those communications you miss. In your voicemail message, tell them you will call back within a specific time frame; do the same in your auto-reply (see below). Then, follow up to each and every call within your committed time frame.
Not surprisingly, enhancing this aspect of your customer experience also works miraculously with existing clients. Don’t neglect someone simply because they’ve already agreed to work with you. They may be stuck with you now but that’s no guarantee they’ll come back when they have another, separate, legal issue. Build the relationship using the same attention to detail you did from the very first conversation. In short, first and second and 20th impressions all count.
3. In court? Back-to-back meetings? Use auto-reply. For solo practices or small firms, the email auto-reply is a great way to show clients that you have them in mind, even when you are busy on another case or in court. Most people think to use the auto-reply or “out-of-office” function in Outlook or Gmail when they are on vacation, but it’s also a great tool when you are juggling a busy schedule and have urgent items hitting your inbox several times every day. Update your message as often as needed, whether that’s once a week or three times a day. Keep it simple:
Thanks for your email. I’m currently in court and unable to respond. I will respond to your email by tomorrow, Tuesday, at noon. If your matter is urgent, please leave a message on my cell phone at [phone number], or contact [administrative assistant or law partner], and someone will contact you as quickly as possible.
4. About that interminable disclaimer. The Economist put it best about lawyers’ fetishization of disclaimers: “… lawyers often insist on [disclaimers] because they see others using them. As with Latin vocabulary and judges’ robes, once something has become a legal habit it has a tendency to stick.”
What do disclaimers have to do with the customer experience? Quite a bit. No one wants to, or will, read a lengthy list of reasons you, the lawyer, are not on the hook for some recipient’s course of action with your email. Further, as noted above, most clients are already nervous, anxious or otherwise conflicted about working with an attorney. They don’t want to be reminded, again and again in the case of lengthy email strings, that they are indeed engaged in some kind of legal proceeding.
Adding to the problem is that lawyers don’t stop with email. A year or so ago Kevin O’Keefe highlighted the Social Media Ethics Guidelines of the Commercial and Federal Litigation Section of the New York State Bar, which, at the time, required “Tweet Disclaimers” for lawyers using Twitter. The guidelines were subsequently amended to a more reasonable standard, but the fact there’s a world in which “Tweet Disclaimers” could have been a reality in the last 24 months borders on the ridiculous.
Legal ethics and advertising rules ultimately exist to protect and help clients. It’s pretty clear disclaimers don’t help clients. If you are going to use a disclaimer, be sparing, be clear and be gone.
5. Bring that angry client in off the ledge. At some point in any business, no matter what services are offered, an angry client or two will emerge. Usually, it isn’t so much the issue itself that matters in the end, but how it’s handled. Classic customer service skills can help you navigate angry clients and make them feel as good as possible about how the situation is ultimately resolved. Add these tactics to your repertoire to make sure your clients stay your clients for the long haul.
- Address the issue as quickly as possible. If you receive an angry email or voicemail, don’t procrastinate in responding. Waiting only gives that anger time to reach a boil. Call the client immediately — and call them even if they emailed you. Dealing with upset clients is best done in person or over the phone.
- Seek to understand first. Make sure you fully understand what the issue is. Ask questions and then summarize the situation, closing with: “Did I get all of that right? Is there anything else I need to know before we discuss how to best resolve this?” And always apologize when needed — if you or someone on your team made a mistake, own it. Keep it straightforward: “I’m so sorry that this happened.” To be clear, you’re not apologizing for the law or an unfortunate legal outcome, you’re apologizing that somewhere along the way your client’s experience didn’t meet the standards to which you aspire.
- Present options. Even when there is no perfect solution, present options. This shows a thoughtful and thorough response, and provides a sense of control to the client — even if one of the options is providing a referral to a new lawyer. Odds are the client will stay with you, but in giving the name of another lawyer, you are showing that you take full accountability for the situation.
The retail world has lots of customer touch point examples that can be leveraged in the legal world, improving your clients’ customer experience with you and your firm. By implementing the five presented here, you’re on the right track to make your clients’ experience as seamless as possible for both existing and potential clients.
Dan Lear is Director of Industry Relations for online legal marketplace Avvo. He is a lawyer, blogger and legal industry gadfly. As a technology-focused business lawyer he advised companies from startups to the Fortune 100 and helped develop agreements and terms for early cloud services offerings before the notion of “the cloud” had entered the common cultural consciousness. In 2015, Dan was named to the Fastcase 50, preceded by being honored with the Washington State Bar Association President’s Award in 2014. Follow Dan @rightbrainlaw.
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