As you look toward 2019, the number of challenges facing law firms continues to grow. Not only is there increased competition which changes the traditional way law firms do business, there is also an influx of self-help sites which allow clients to resolve their own legal matters without hiring an attorney.
These new options bring affordable legal services to people and empower citizens to address their own legal matters. This results in a law firm no longer controlling all facets of the legal system. How can a law firm conquer these barriers and become the resource of choice for legal matters? The key is to create a client experience that brings people back to you and minimizes the client’s confusion.
It is not enough to be an expert in your field; to become more effective, you need to create an environment in which a person feels cared for and safe to communicate honestly. This will allow the attorney to gather pertinent information allowing them to better represent and argue on your client’s behalf. Your client’s choice to work with you boils down to how it feels to do business with your organization. So, what does it take to help your organization stand out?
Let’s start with the client. Why do people call a law firm? Normally they are facing an issue in which something has occurred that put them in a position of feeling wronged or scared. They may be angry, feel betrayed or, in the case of a company, be facing something that threatens their viability. Although as lawyers you are focused on the legal issues facing them, are their emotions dealt with at all? How does the person feel from the moment he or she dials your number? Are they treated with empathy and is the emotional component of what he or she is feeling addressed? Often an individual just wants to feel heard.
Although you may not see the situation in the same way, by taking some time to listen and acknowledge the person’s feelings, it will build the relationship and the level of trust. When trust is high between an attorney and client, it positively affects your ability to do your job and your client is more likely to take your advice.
Everything your organization does communicates to the client. From the tone of the person answering the phone to the amount of time it takes to respond to an inquiry on your website. Every experience communicates what he or she can expect from your firm. In order to create the client’s experience, it takes all members of your organization understanding their role and how it meets the needs of the client and your firm as well. When a person walks into your office, how does it feel to them? Is the environment welcoming or stiff and sterile? Although he or she came to speak to an attorney, the initial greeting sets the tone for the meeting.
Next what communicates when it comes to meeting with your client? The first goal should be to develop rapport. This means giving them all your attention, and listening to understand, not just respond. Ask your receptionist to hold your calls. Don’t interrupt, make eye contact and use minimal encouragers such as nodding to acknowledge you are listening. If you want your client to expound on something he or she said, just repeat the last word he or she spoke and then be quiet. Accident? Incident? This allows the client to know you are listening and gives you additional information. The use of questions conveys interest and helps you gain understanding. It may also improve your client’s self-awareness of their own situation and can be thought provoking.
Other aspects communicate as well. Do you sit behind your desk or at a round table with the client? Both create a different feeling. Do you rely on email too much which can be misconstrued when a quick phone call can give you and your client immediate feedback? Do you send a quick note or thank-you at the end of a case? Do you help your clients to understand the status of their case even if you have no new information? It is the little things that will make your organization stand out and create word-of-mouth referrals which are the most cost-effective way to market. Excelling at customer service is clearly one of the best ways to differentiate you from the competition, and the key to growth.
Beth Sears, Ph.D., President of Workplace Communication, Inc. is an interpersonal and organizational communication expert. Using her unique approach, Beth has helped leaders to clarify their vision and create language that inspires and engages their workforce, resulting in collaborative, focused teams. Contact her at (585) 538-6360.