Today’s blog is tough one for me. It is hard to admit that there are times where a client has a bad experience with our office. But I would be a fool to deny that fact. There are most certainly times where a client has been less than satisfied with their experience. So, how does that happen? And can it be prevented? Whose fault is it? These are all questions I continually look at it when it is obvious someone is not happy.
I was at lunch the other day with a friend I very much respect—he is aggressive, smart and motivated. He works in the service industry, like me. He said something that I think is a pretty good general rule. Over a salads, he said “Look, 5% of the population will be unhappy with your services no matter what you do. The trick is identifying them and not wasting time on them.” Wow. That simple. That direct. And completely true. I immediately thought of a client I had spent (and still spend) considerable time on. I called to see how she was doing, wrote notes checking in, provided more information that anyone could possibly want AND got a very good result for her. Still not happy. Always disappointed in me when I called. I just don’t get it. Could this have been prevented? I have no idea but I do know there ARE ways to minimize these results. Here is what I have come up with:
- Setting Client Expectations. This is vital in the initial intake meeting. You must establish that this process is not fast, not easy and NOT lucrative. This is a process developed by necessity. I have found my best clients were ones I spent time with in the beginning, answering questions, providing info and sketching out an action plan. This gives the client some comfort knowing where the case is headed and how we will get there. It is also helpful, whether they ask or not, to mention value of the claim. And I don’t mean saying “You injury is worth $XXXXXXX.” NEVER DO THAT. I have found the best response is “I’ll be honest with you—I have no idea what your claim is worth. I have handled many of these cases before and they all are unique. The only promise I can give you on value is that we will do our absolute best to get you what you deserve.” That’s it. If they press you beyond that, reaffirm your position. If they keep pressing, re-evaluate this client. Also, give them an estimate on time for case closure—from 12 months to 18 months or whatever it is. Err on the side of longer.
- Communication. I read somewhere, maybe from John Fisher, that calling a client takes 2 minutes but answering a client’s call takes 10 minutes. That is a simple rule of thumb—call and inform the client. Email the client updates. You can use programs like InfusionSoft or develop your own system to have yourself or a staff member send updates at certain intervals. This is very easy, it just takes some discipline.
- Acknowledge the Unknown. What? Admit to the client you may not know something? A lawyer admitting you are not aware of certain info? Yes. Absolutely. BE HONEST. Tell the client, “Yeah, I am not too familiar with that but I will get all the information we need.” This one simple behavior will alter how your client views you—you will instantly become real, accessible and understanding. It builds trust. The truth is, if you make up something or guess, they will find out. And then the relationship is shattered.
- Keep Your Word. If you say you will do something, DO IT. Do it now. Right now. Do not wait. My cousin once told me, when he was working for a huge commercial real estate firm, the difference between the rising stars and the complacent. He told me it was simple—the rising stars move stuff off their desk immediately. That is it. They aren’t any smarter or creative. They just say they will do something and then they do it. They have a plan. It is centered on ACTION.
These 4 simple steps will minimize unhappy clients and increase referrals. It will NOT happen overnight. It might take years. But if you decided to practice law to get rich quick, you either found out that is a myth or you are about to be sorely disappointed. As a young lawyer, if you keep the above as practice, others will notice and your business will grow. Not every client will be happy—and you won’t be the last lawyer they are unhappy with. The best you can do is dust yourself off, keep moving and put it behind you.