It isn’t easy to get clients to talk about your firm’s good service. But it is easy to get them to talk about your firm if they are unhappy! It’s a well-known fact that unhappy clients tell a lot more people about their experience than those who were happy with your service. And the problem is exacerbated by social media and the Internet. So what can law firms do to improve their service levels?
In Conveyancing, clients want their transfer to happen quickly, and they want to be kept updated about progress along the way. There is no such thing as too much feedback, and besides, modern conveyancing software will do all the work for you. While they will be pleased (briefly) with a discounted fee, that will vanish when they realise that only the fee is discounted, and not the duty! They’ll also be unhappy with a big bill for posts & petties, because they understand that to mean “postage”!
In a commercial matter, your client will expect a quick turnaround, and they will want you to know your stuff. They won’t really care that you used an automated template to produce the agreement, but they will almost always question your bill afterwards. (You probably know about the importance of getting payment from your clients while the gratitude curve is high, right?) You might choose to show your full fee, less a discount on the invoice. That will make your client feel better about the bill, and it might prevent them from asking for a further discount.
In a litigation matter, your client (the plaintiff) wants a quick resolution of their matter, while the reverse is often true for the defendant. If you take your time to finalise a matter, the odds are that your client will think you are stringing the case along to increase your fee. Another thing your client will resent is if you flip the case between fee-earners, as often happens when junior litigation staff are used on cases to drive down costs. As with conveyancing, litigation clients need regular feedback as to the progress of their case.
There are also some other ways in which you can impress your clients. One is that your office phones are answered promptly when a client calls. (You’ll be surprised how many law firms are terrible at this.) Another is that you return calls promptly, and you are up to date on the progress of your client’s matter. (You can use a good accounting system to store notes about the progress of a matter in the paperless file.) One aspect that is seldom used effectively is to set the right expectations with your client, even though your client might forget what you said if they lose their case! Certainly, if you tell your client they will win a case and they end up losing it, you aren’t going to be their favourite lawyer!
Some firms send out newsletters on a monthly basis, and provided they contain useful information, clients will see this as being professional and organised. Others ask clients to rate their service level after a case is finalised, and this can be valuable, especially if there is some sort of response to a bad rating.
A number of more progressive firms are making a few useful document templates available on their website for free, for example a property rental agreement, agreement of sale, power of attorney, or a domestic worker employment agreement. This not only improves the client’s perception of your firm but it could also act as a lead generator. Of course, not all lawyers believe these agreements should be made available for free, but if you don’t do it, the firm around the corner will. And besides, most of these agreements are available on the Internet anyway.
Being a lawyer in today’s tight economy is not easy. Clients see legal services as a grudge spend, even if they are on the winning end of a case! In the future, lawyers will need to be innovative if they want to continue to do well, and that includes finding ways to improve their service levels. If you aren’t sure how your service levels stack up, ask yourself whether you would be happy with the service your firm provides – assuming you were the client.
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