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Two for Tuesdays: Client Service

It’s hard to believe that only three days ago at this time, I was snorkeling with my clients in Costa Rica and seeing my first sting ray! Spending a few days with my clients always gets me thinking about networking, as you know, but it also gets me thinking about client service. So for today’s Two for Tuesdays, I have two tips for improving client service!

Tip One: Say Thank You

In the US, this week is Thanksgiving, so people are talking a lot about gratitude and what they are thankful for. After a tumultuous few years in the world economy, I think we can all agree that along with family and friends, we’re also pretty grateful for our clients. What better time to tell them?

While I advocate active gratitude on a yearly basis, Thanksgiving can be a good reminder for this. Reach out to your top five clients this week and thank them. Even if you’re not in the US, use it as a reminder to offer your clients your gratitude. Try:

  • Thank you for trusting me with your business.
  • I’m grateful for the opportunity to work with you.
  • Thank you for being a client.
  • I appreciate being your business adviser.

We all like to know that we’re appreciated, and that our business is appreciated. And I know we like it even better when those thanks don’t come with strings attached – I’m talking about separating this note out from the bills you send, asking whether they have new matters for you, etc. Just say thank you.

It’s quick, it’s easy, and it lets your clients know that you value your relationship with them.

Tip Two: Find Out What They’re Really Asking 

Tip Two this week involves a little more work, and comes from an experience I recently had planning a conference. In organizing our events, I am both on the client side and on the service side – I am welcoming my clients to a destination, where I am facilitating relationships and adding value to their membership, but I am also working with local hotels and destination management companies to create a successful experience.

The water gets a little murky, because we like to bring in our local firm to have input on the events and activities we should pursue, so sometimes there is confusion about who the real client is – but make no mistake, it’s my company since we are footing the bill.

The issue that leads to today’s tip has to do with a misunderstanding that occurred at a particular meeting. After all the months of planning and discussion, the time came to execute the conference. And our local meeting manager was nowhere to be found. She met with me before the conference to go over the final details, but then neither she nor any of her staff were ever on site to manage the event.

As a result, a large part of the management fell to me and to our hosts – and although we can easily manage it, the issue is that our time is better spent with the hosts networking with their fellow delegates and for me, handling their requests, questions, and demands, instead of having to liaise with the various suppliers. That means that my clients suffer.

In this particular case, it was something that I noticed more keenly than any of my clients did – which is the main thing I care about. But it warranted a strong response from me to our management company, at which time, she told me that she was an events planner, and not a manager. She didn’t know that we required that service, despite all of the discussions and emails we had had.

Although I indicated in several places that I wanted her to be present for certain things, I never spelled out that I needed an events manager, because I didn’t think I needed to. From the conversations that I’ve had with lawyers and inside counsel, I know that there are often similar situations in those relationships, where the clients think something is understood, but their lawyers aren’t getting the full picture.

This is where tip two comes in – it’s incumbent upon the service provider to dig a little deeper and find out what it is your client really wants.

  • Are they asking you to turn over every rock to get to the best result, or are they really only looking for a “good enough” resolution?
  • Is there a piece of information that is relevant to the matter that will change the scope, but maybe the client doesn’t realize its importance (and so hasn’t mentioned it)?
  • Is there expertise you think they could benefit from in a matter that you don’t have, and they haven’t asked for, that you could suggest to them?

And so on. The issue at hand here is the old “we don’t know what we don’t know” situation.  Clients may not know what is relevant or not relevant, or what help they need or don’t need, while their lawyers may not know what issues are not being disclosed, or what the client is really asking.

But as the provider of the service, it is your job as their lawyer to find out those unknowns. To dig deeper and see what they’re really asking you, and what help they really need – that’s your job as their trusted business adviser. I’m not letting clients off the hook here. We all learn from every situation how to better communicate and disclose our needs. I now know what to look for when planning a conference to make sure this doesn’t happen again – in my ten years doing this, it had never happened before, so experience in a position will never mean that we can get too comfortable.

However, I will always be the client in that scenario, and it’s up to the company that we’re working with to go above and beyond to make us happy – and that includes reading between the lines. It’s the same for your clients as well – even when you wish they’d do a more complete and better job of communicating what they want, it’s still up to you to find out what that is, and deliver it!

For those celebrating Thanksgiving this week, I wish you a holiday filled with good cheer, love and gratitude! We’ll be back with our roundup on Friday, and as always welcome your comments below!