“Under-promise and over-deliver.” You’ve probably heard the phrase. But do you really understand what it means?
Most of your unhappy clients would never have become disgruntled if you’d had protocols in place to properly set their expectations the day you signed them up. Before you take your next new client down that confusing, frustrating road commonly referred to as the “legal process,” let’s look at two big reasons it is so important to set realistic expectations for your clients. Up front.
1. Unhappy clients are more likely to share negative reviews. If an upset client leaves a negative review about your practice on a website like Yelp, Google+ or Avvo, people are less likely to call you. Statistics on reputation management show that the majority of consumers consult reputable review sites before hiring a lawyer.
2. Unhappy clients tend to call and email more often. Once a client loses confidence in you, they will become less trusting and more likely to call, email and ask questions about even the smallest things having to do with their case. While your staff is catering to an unhappy client, it takes their valuable time away from more productive and profitable work. And that costs you money. Take a minute and speculate how many hours your staff spends catering to the “problem” clients. Multiply that number by how much you pay that employee by the hour, and that is your loss. Thousands of dollars I suspect.
The bottom line is that negative reviews cost you new clients and potential income. A staff that is log-jammed dealing with upset clients is inefficient and that will cost you, too. But it can be avoided.
How to Manage Client Expectations
If you follow these three tips, you will set your clients’ expectations from the beginning — under-promising and over-delivering throughout the engagement. That makes for happy clients.
1. The importance of patience. Explain to your new client that things will take time. The legal process moves slowly. There are countless variables contributing to how fast their case will move along — and many of these variables are out of your control, even though you are the lawyer.
2. You’re in charge. Take control of the conversation from the start. Some clients will attempt to put words in your mouth and get you to agree to the ideas they have in their head. I’m sure you’ve had clients nod along with you, and then repeat several times, “So what you’re saying is you think I’m going to end up with about $1 million, right?” Shut this down immediately and reset their expectations.
It may seem easier to tell them what they want to hear — especially when you really need that client. But if you go along and appear agreeable to things that aren’t realistic, you could pay dearly for it later on. It is imperative that new clients have a clear and realistic understanding of what to expect.
3. Send them home with a handout. Once you are certain the client is on the same page as you and has been successfully signed up, give them a handout that recaps the highlights of your initial intake meeting. Depending on the matter, this could be a large postcard, a trifold brochure or a simple sheet of paper. Do not give them more than one page at this stage. If you do, they will likely throw it away, just like you do when someone hands you too much information.
Make sure the information is concise and easy to understand. Emphasize exactly what to expect throughout the process. You might include a flowchart of how they can expect the case to go, or include a simple timeline with bullet points. They will refer to this later and remember what you discussed.
Know When to Say No
A wise man once told me that sometimes the best business is the business you never do. If you follow the steps above and your gut tells you that everything you’ve said has fallen on deaf ears … it’s probably best not to take that client.
It’s hard to turn a client away. But the reality is one unhappy client leaving just one negative review on Yelp could cost you plenty.
Ray Gross is founder and CEO of Attorney Internet Marketing LLC. For more than five years, he has successfully helped increase the revenue of his clients by organizing joint marketing programs and coaching in the art of proper lead intake.