Client Relationships: 4 Family Lessons to Make Clients Happier

client relationshipsIt’s worth repeating – the legal profession is a service industry. We lawyers are trained in the arts of litigation and transactions to give our clients solutions to their problems with competent representation. Yet, the very best lawyers often excel where others don’t because they recognize how to nurture those client relationships. Sow new ones; harvest established ones.

As the scouting lyrics go, “Make new friends, but keep the old. One is silver, the other gold.” Acquiring new customers can be anywhere from five to 25 times more expensive than retaining existing ones, as various industry studies claim. Those existing clients are your rock.

Nevertheless, what are we doing as lawyers to make our clients’ customer experience the best one? How can we keep our clients returning to us for their legal service needs? Better yet, how can we make them want to return to us?

Surprisingly, you can step out of the office and into the home for some helpful advice. Here are four lessons learned from building a sound home life that can be harnessed to keep your valued clients happy:

1. Be Straightforward and Act Fast (Saying No Is Okay Too)

Setting limits with kids can be challenging, as can the art of saying “no” to teach them limits and to be resourceful. You may feel guilty that you’re disappointing their expectations, as their asks turn into begs, cries, or even demands. Yet, in the end, being straightforward may best serve the interests of your children – and your clients.

Be honest from the start about your ability and your workload. Setting realistic expectations about how you can handle an issue for a client should allow you to maintain quality work and high energy. If the work isn’t the right fit for your expertise or practice area, your client will respect your desire to put their interests first by getting them the best help, as you might refer the matter other able counsel. It is better to under promise and over deliver.

Be prompt in your answer. Every email or phone call should be replied to within 24 hours, if not sooner. Yes, that includes when you’re out of the office and in addition to your automated reply (which is fine too). Give authority over your work inbox to another to allow for a personalized reply to the client. If the matter cannot be addressed with a simple answer, always respond with a quick call or email saying that you received it and that you will reply as soon as possible. This shows you’re always on top of client communication, while ensuring that you take the time for a diligent and thoughtful response when needed.

Lastly, anticipate client questions that require research. If you can have that information ready to go at your fingertips, you will impress the client and set the tone for the value you can provide in your services.

2. Eat Together

Families who eat together, thrive together. Study after study shows that children who eat dinner with their families (in an electronic device-free zone) are less likely to drink, smoke, do drugs, do poorly in school, be depressed, and experience harmful consequences of cyberbullying, to name a few. The relationship catalyst created by mealtime should not be ignored.

Breaking bread with your clients is an often-overlooked practice in our uber-fast-paced environment. And it need not be a formal affair. A quick (and inexpensive) lunch or even a coffee or tea meeting offers numerous benefits to your client relationship building.

Having an outside the office chat can provide for an opportunity for the client to give valuable feedback and for you to focus your listening solely on the client’s needs. Don’t be afraid to write down a few notes as you chat and personalize your service to their liking. Get to know them personally along the way, so long as they wish to share with you. Talk about them and ask open-ended questions designed to learn more about their likes and interests. Personalize yourself with them.

One caveat – not all attorney-client conversations may be appropriate to have outside the office, let alone in a public place that might restrict a frank and open discussion or – at worse – place confidentiality at risk.

3. Share Your History

Children who know the family stories of those who came before them tend to have higher self-esteem, interact better with their peers, and show higher resilience. Long-term scientific studies have attributed much of this self-confidence building to creating a strong “intergenerational self” as they sense a belonging to something bigger than themselves. The individual and collective stories of their family histories build a narrative of struggles and successes into their reality. They become part of a bigger whole; they become invested.

Whether you are the oldest law firm in Illinois with roots including Abraham Lincoln or a newly formed solo professional corporation, find the unique narrative of your personal and professional voyage that demonstrates the value to bring to your service. Your marketability does not begin and end with the J.D. on your wall; it should incorporate your personal and organizational histories. Be humble in your successes, and true to your past challenges. Clients will relate to you more and your goodwill will increase in value.

4. Say Thank You (In Writing)

We could all do a better job of thanking Aunt Edna for the birthday check she sends each year. Those are the obvious family courtesy fouls. Then there are the unsolicited gratitude and appreciation we all could do a better job at expressing. The random acts of kindness to acknowledge those close to you for all they do. A small note in a school lunch bag. A bouquet of flowers to surprise a spouse.

Adding a personal touch like a brief handwritten note to the client shows that you care and reinforces your commitment to them. Just think about the ROI involved in the time and cost to write and mail a simple thank you note to a current client, especially compared to all you might spend on indirect advertising that may go unseen and unanswered. Not only might that card sit on their office desk or kitchen counter as a constant reminder, it has planted a seed to convey the work and commitment you have to your clients, often to be shared with family, friends, and neighbors.

Have you seen success in using these tips for a happier family life as well as happier clients? What has worked well for you? We welcome your ideas and comments below.

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Mark C. Palmer

Mark C. Palmer

As Professionalism Counsel, Mark leads professionalism programming through the statewide mentoring program, collaborating with stakeholders from Galena to Cairo. Mark also supports the development and delivery of educational programming to lawyers and in law schools. When not in the office, you will likely find Mark and his wife busy raising their twin daughters, enjoying his passion of traveling and eating around the world, and training for his next half marathon.
Mark C. Palmer

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