The ABA Journal recently published an article on a lawyer’s suspension for inadequately responding to client communications. The lawyer in question was responding to their client’s Facebook messages with one sentence phrase of “relax” and “this is complicated” to client inquiries about their personal injury suit. Complicated cases or problems deserve more than just a one sentence answer, and social media or even email wasn’t going to be adequate for making the client feel better about how the case was going. This is such a common issue within the legal profession (and frankly I’ve seen it in all professions, so I am not trying to pick on lawyers) that bar associations have long, lengthy ethics seminars on client communication to avoid bar complaints.
Managing the client communication expectation is a tightrope – you don’t want to be constantly at the beck and call of clients and the age of the internet has made us all a little ADHD. We fire off an email or a Facebook message and expect an instant response. We check our emails constantly and then complain when someone doesn’t answer us immediately. We have become a nation of toddlers – expecting our needs of communication to be met right away.
On the converse side of the communication spectrum, there are those who would rather work in radio silence. I have seen instances where emails, letters, and phone calls go unanswered because the answer may be unpleasant, uncomfortable or complicated. For example, a professional’s rate may need to go up and rather than communicate that to the client – the rate is simply raised on the next bill and hope they don’t notice. Communication about rates and costs are not unexpected, but be prepared to make the case for raising rates long before the rate change happens. The client who discovers the rate change without the justification feels burned and resentful.
Conversations about complicated matters or rate changes should always be by phone to allow each party to explain their side and for the other party to listen. Follow up with an email or a letter to reiterate your point.
The professional’s reputation is enhanced when difficult conversations are approached directly and if you can, with some notice. Let your client know when you will be away from your computer for a long period of time, or you need more time to meet their deadline. Give your client time to adjust their budget when you need to raise rates and justify the rate increase. Let your client know if you can’t meet their expectations or if you need to hand them over to a different professional to help them with their business pain.
Over communicate vs. under communicate with your clients and respect the relationship as a partnership. Good and clear client communications will only enhance your professional reputation and thus increase your market share.
Catching up with a friend over a beer the other day, we discussed her job hunt. She had recently interviewed with a local firm and had a positively lovely experience even though she didn’t get the job. She won’t be working with that firm this time, but she plans to refer clients to them.
That’s why it’s time to marry the marketing department to the human resources department.
My friend’s positive experience with that firm was thanks to a warm, welcoming and dignified HR department. And that positive experience is guaranteed to lead to referrals. Seattle is a larger city, but in some fields, it’s a very small town, and referrals matter. In this case, the HR department is generating referrals, and job-seekers count as clients, and should be treated as such.
Consider the experience of everyone who interacts with your firm, even the people coming to you for a job. Human Resources is often the first point of contact, and should also function like good marketing. Positive experiences can lead to new clients; negative experiences can lead to bad reviews on Glassdoor and similar sites. Respect everyone who walks through the door — it will have long term benefits.
A special thanks for Liz MacGahan for helping with the writing and editing duties for this piece.
Shhhh….stop talking and just listen. In your next client meeting, I want you to put your pen down, put away your marketing folders, close your computer, turn off your phone and just listen to what your client is trying to tell you about their business needs. This is the most powerful tool you have to help you discover and deepen your relationship with your client.
Today I was inspired by the power of listening in a client interaction. In this instance, I was the client and I saw how much listening builds a client relationship when making your case or a presentation. I have been investigating a software system for an association and had been on four different conference calls with 4 different sales teams. Every sales team has their own style, but I had started each conversation with the words “Walk me through the software while I go down a list of specific questions,” so that I could evaluate the software as carefully and as fairly as possible. Of the 4 sales teams, 3 of them were open to this way of evaluating the software and let me, as the client, drive the demonstration. The last salesperson did something that started me on this particular topic of listening. The 4th salesperson had a set demonstration and would not let me interrupt to ask my list of questions and although during the demonstration, the software looked like it might have met my needs, I really don’t know.
I stopped the demonstration early because my questions weren’t being answered and I wasn’t being heard. I came away from the interaction with the impression that if the salesperson wasn’t going to listen in the early part of the courtship, how well would they respond when this association would need help implementing the software or ran into a bug? I simply wasn’t heard and I felt like my needs were not addressed.
One of the most overused words in current pop psychology is mindfulness, but the essential idea behind it is solid – Be in the moment and listen. Most of what your client is trying to tell you is lost during a meeting when you do most of the talking. A successful client meeting should be you talking 10% and your client talking 90%. Having your client truly feel that they are being heard is probably the greatest gift any of us can give a client. Moreover, when people feel heard they feel respected, which is essential to building a trusting relationship.
We have all received client service so wonderful that we’ve raved about it to anyone who would listen.
In contrast, you have surely had a client experience so awful that you are determined to never use the product or service in question again. Wouldn’t you love to know what your clients really experience when engaging with your firm? What improvements or procedures could be implemented to ensure your client has a positive experience? It’s time to secret shop your sales and service process and discover how your client experience is affecting your business.
As a marketing director, I have seen how effective a secret shopper (or let’s say a secret client) can be in exposing hidden faults in client experience. For instance, an organization I worked with in the past received vague but consistent complaints about a registration process that clients described as unwieldy and difficult to navigate. With this in mind, management assigned a person unknown to the rest of the staff to follow the path of our customers through our sales and service process to determine where the problem resided. Later, after reflecting on their experience, the secret client explained that they had loved dealing with the front desk and even gave them rave reviews. The secret client had experienced no problems with the billing process but described the registrar as cold and impersonal leading them to characterize the entire customer experience as a poor one. At the time we in management wondered if perhaps the registrar might have been having a bad day, so another secret client was sent to navigate the process and again the registrar’s poor customer service skills were identified as the problem. Unfortunately, even after additional training and coaching this employee remained resistant to change and had to be reassigned away from responsibilities requiring customer interaction. Nonetheless, without the insights provided by the secret clients we might never have discovered the source of the friction that left so many customers feeling cold about our registration process. Given our reliance on previous clients for fundraising and future growth leaving every client with a warm and lasting good impression was imperative.
It need not be expensive nor time consuming to assign several people to document their experiences with your sales and service process. Identifying and eliminating frictions in client interactions is the way to ensure that the whole experience is one that turns clients into advocates and a constant source of referrals. Word of mouth based on positive customer experience is one of the most critical aspects of your marketing strategy and should be treated as such.
Special thanks to my co-author Cody Malone, Principal/Consultant at EMPATÍA.UX. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org for user experience design. To sign up for more marketing tips, visit baldwin-network.com