Stay Close to Clients Despite Social Distancing Five ways to show you care

If you’re working remotely during the Coronavirus pandemic, you might be tempted to hide under the blankets and wait for the situation to resolve. Between the 24/7 news cycle, the scramble to organize immediate work and disperse teams, life feels chaotic.

Don’t forget about your clients in the midst of the chaos. Clients – no matter where they’re located or what their business needs are – need comfort and caring in addition to professional expertise in times of uncertainty.

Five simple actions to take when business is anything but usual:

1. Manage your own state of mind. Fear, anxiety and catastrophic thinking will not help you or your clients. Be good to yourself – take a step back and observe how you’re feeling. Could you reframe the situation from a different perspective? How would someone you admire handle it? Above all, remember that you’re not alone.

2. Practice radical empathy. The people who “get ahead of the situation” aren’t necessarily the smartest or most technologically proficient. They’re the most empathetic. Ask clients “What do you need to get through the next few weeks?” and work at understanding their answers.

This is a time to listen with your ears, your brain and your heart.

3. Be human. Ask your contacts how their families are. Maybe they have aging parents who live alone or they’re suddenly home-schooling children. Maybe their spouse is a health care worker coping with exhaustion. I’m surprised by how many professionals know absolutely nothing about their clients’ personal lives, despite professing to care about them. Client care means more than caring about clients’ legal budgets.

4. Take initiative. My dad was a criminal defence lawyer in a small prairie city. After he’d  visit clients in jail, he’d usually call or visit someone in their family to let them know how the person was doing and to ask how everyone was coping. As a child, I was often beside him when he did this. I witnessed elders sobbing, heard siblings express deep worries and felt gratitude that someone with the power to do something helpful actually followed through. It was a small gesture that made a big impact. If my dad could do it, you can do it.

If you can help, now is the time to do so. Buy grocery gift cards for their staff, purchase something from their business or offer a discount on your services (as I’ve done for my current clients).

5. Follow up. COVID-19 will impact every part of our economic, technological and social infrastructure for a long, long time. I have no scientific backing for this statement; I’m basing it on my observations of the stock market, economic policy and the reduced hours so many businesses are being forced to adopt.

Your clients will need personal and regular communication as they navigate the uncertainty. Brief email bulletins and social media updates convey your efficiency, but a phone call to inquire about someone’s well being will speak volumes about your character.

I wish you, your families and your businesses well as we all face the crisis. Stay calm if you can and stay healthy. If you need help, know that you are welcome to reach out at any time. I’ve always offered phone consultations free of charge; I don’t plan on changing that policy anytime soon.

Show, Don’t Tell Apply an old creative writing tool to new client feedback

If an important client rated her satisfaction with your firm’s service quality as a “five” on a scale from one to seven, would you know how to improve her opinion? Would you be comfortable explaining why it matters?

Presented with this scenario, you might be tempted to do one of two things:

1. Breathe a sigh of relief that they weren’t ranked at four or lower.
2. Say “Hmmm…. interesting.” and file the results, never to be seen or spoken of again.

You have other – and better- options. Most of those options involve using the feedback to improve service delivery in a way that increases your esteem and trustworthy reputation among clients. This, presumably, was the original intent of your feedback request anyway. Right? Right.

Data points can fit neatly into bar-graphs, but they can also be useless when one of your lawyers keeps doing something that irks her client.

The old creative writing maxim “Show, don’t tell” could help you frame client comments in a way that illustrates context and resonates with people inside your firm.

How it works

Say, for example, your client rates her lawyer’s communication efforts as “satisfactory”. Here are a few ways you could aid interpretation and act accordingly:

  • Ask the client to describe the context surrounding her comments. Dig for specifics, if not facts.
    • Why is a certain process working/not working well? How often does it happen? How does it impact on your client, her organization and her objectives?
    • Your report could describe the setting the client works in or the back story – experiences, facts, etc. – that helps readers understand what the client really means.
    • You could also mention secondary characters adjacent or influential to what’s happening or foreshadow a future development, such as your client’s CEO, competition or investors.
  • Identify actions that lawyer needs to update and the effort it would require.
    • The client might say that she’d appreciate a monthly work-in-progress status report that she can use in meetings with stakeholders because she doesn’t have the time or resources to do this on her own.
    • You could help the relationship lead at your firm create the report template. Are you willing to assist with this or find alternate resources? Would the investment result in a closer, more trustworthy relationship with the client? Would it differentiate (and improve) your service model? Could the template be used for other clients?
  • Identify behaviours that the client appreciates or that need to change. Billing procedures, responsiveness and communication often fall into this category.
    • Improving satisfaction might require a change to career-long habits and ingrained or efficient processes. Unfortunately, this means dealing with personalities.
    • The results are often best for your firm, but temporarily painful for your people. A thoughtful change-management strategy would alleviate friction and equip you with firm-sanctioned language that persuades colleagues of the value of the exercise.
  • Include dialogue if you are quoting from an interview. Direct feedback helps readers hear what the client is saying and how she is saying it.
    • Sometimes, what the client doesn’t say is actually more useful. Does she gloss over or refuse to comment on certain aspects of your services? Does her description of “value” align with yours?

Why it matters

Word of mouth referrals from friends, family and professional experts are still viewed as the most trustworthy sources of information and business. But trust in organizations and their leaders fell to record lows in Canada this year and creativity thrives in workplaces where people aren’t afraid to share ideas.

I’m not advising you to extrapolate feedback to the nth degree or make rash assumptions (which would be downright dangerous). But by applying some creativity, your feedback efforts could do more than evaluate satisfaction or lawyer performance – they could spur the type of innovation that distinguishes your services, brings you closer to your clients and keeps your firm in business for a very long time.

Work and Rework

I’m a fan of Basecamp, a web-based project management tool. It has just the right number of features, it’s simply structured, and, most importantly it’s effective. The same can be said of Rework, a book written by the creators of Basecamp, Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson.

We could learn something from these guys
Fried and Hansson founded a small, Chicago-based web design company called 37signals in 1999. The team soon noticed the need for an online tool that would help people “get work done” without heavy investments in commitments, resources or time. Basecamp became that tool.

Read more

Simple Questions for Complex Situations

How many professionals consistently use a checklist of questions to ask clients at the beginning of a client matter? Many customize checklists published by regulators for a particular practice area, client service style or matter management process. The focus is often on quality assurance, risk mitigation and scope of work. Is there a way to include the human element too? Read more

Schmooze Without the Ooze

Merriam Webster defines “schmooze” as a verb meaning “to talk with someone in a friendly way often in order to get some advantage for yourself”. Sounds unctuous, doesn’t it? I was recently interviewed about modern methods of getting to know clients and colleagues in a more sincere way than a lot of people associate with schmoozing. Read more

Why clients fail to manage expectations

You’ve probably read articles and attended seminars on how to manage the expectations of your corporate clients. You know enough to keep them happy by having honest, up-front conversations about what to expect from you.

After all, it’s what you would do if you were in their shoes. Read more

Three techniques to effectively build business

Overwhelmed by messages extolling the virtues of various marketing techniques? Here’s a primer to keep it all in perspective.

1. Develop your reputation

Most professionals still rely on referrals to attract new business. Which is why your reputation is so important. Read more