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Two for Tuesdays: Up Your Game

One of the things I think a lot about is client service – I’m regularly trying to figure out how I can bring more value to my own clients, but also looking critically at how others meet their clients’ needs and wants.

For all of us, no matter what work we do, we are all acting as providers and receivers of client service. As a receiver of service, I can be quite demanding – I’m very detail-oriented, I know the level of service I deliver to my clients, and I expect the same attention to detail and passion in those I’m working with. 

Unfortunately, it’s fairly rare that I’m impressed by someone’s level of client service. Which got me thinking this afternoon about two ways we can “up our client service game.” Although these are two separate tips, they generally have to be undertaken together in order to really wow someone.

Tip One: Responsiveness

I almost can’t believe that I have to include “responsiveness” as a tip for great client service – we’ve talked about it SO much, and I’ve heard it mentioned time and time again, so it should be the norm today instead of the exception.

But alas, it’s not.

So start with being responsive. I very rarely let even a few hours pass without responding to an email  – no matter what the person is asking me, I will respond in some way – either with the answer or acknowledgment of receipt and plans to follow up. I do this whether I’m responding to a client email or a provider email.

Some people will say that it’s distracting and time consuming to focus so hard on being responsive – but I’m in a service business. Client service IS my job. Most often, what my clients want is to be heard and acknowledged – the answer to their question is helpful, but the underlying goal is to make them feel important to me. And I accomplish this by being responsive.

Here’s something that should not come as a surprise – email is not 100% reliable. Particularly with the volume of messages we send each day, we cannot guarantee or expect that every single email we send will make it to the desk of the person we’re sending it to.

So when I send out an email and don’t get a response, I don’t know whether the person has received it, and is just sitting on it, if they’re following up, or if they never got it at all. And that leaves me unsure as to what my next steps are.  So I endeavor to avoid putting my clients in that position – and in fact, it’s become a joke among our attorneys that we’re so responsive.

We’re all busy and important people, but our clients keep us in business. Our top priority should be to make them happy, and along with doing high quality work, we need to show them that they matter. A key way to do that is by being responsive.

This week, work on following up with ALL of your emails, within 24 hours.  Whether or not you have an answer for someone, you can give them an update:

  • Thanks for your email. Let me discuss this internally and get back to you.
  • Thanks for your email. We’re working on this, and I expect to have more information/an answer for you by the end of the week.
  • Thanks for your email. This may take a little more time to discuss, so perhaps we should set up a phone call.

You get the picture.  And if you’re worried that answering the email and then clearing it from your inbox may cause you to forget the follow up, use the email as a calendar reminder – Outlook is great for this. Just drag it to the date you want, update what you need to, and add notes to the body, and you’ll get your reminder when you need it.

Plus, your inbox will be less cluttered, which will make you feel ah-mazing. I promise.

Tip Two: Think Outside the Box

For those of you who are more conservative, don’t fear – I won’t be asking you to do anything crazy here. But I am suggesting that you stretch your creativity and open-mindedness a bit, and here’s why.

I read an article yesterday (for which I will post the link if I can find it!) which talked about the traits of successful people. One of those was related to the idea of never saying “no” or “I don’t know,” and it reminded me of the “Yes, and…” improv scenarios that we enacted during the LMA Leadership Conference. The idea is that successful people are not constantly shooting down others’ ideas.

Not every idea is going to be successful, but instead of just saying no all the time, or finding reasons why something won’t work, you should either be finding solutions, adaptations or alternatives.

The word “no” is defeating. Sometimes, it’s a necessary statement to an idea or question. But ask yourself, are you saying “no” out of habit? Or because it truly won’t work? I’m guilty of this myself – I’ll have someone suggest something to me for a conference, and because it’s something that will be a logistical nightmare for me, my first impulse is to say “no,” or to become very anxious when things don’t go exactly as planned.

But what I’ve learned is that my attitude is almost as important to my clients as the ultimate outcome. For example – during our conferences, we will often host “dine arounds,” which is when we make reservations at several restaurants, and split up the group to be “hosted” by a partner from our local firm for dinner that evening. Getting the reservations made, payment arranged, delegates signed up, and then ferrying everyone back and forth on the evening is a logistical nightmare, and if something is going to go wrong at a conference, it’s going to be during the dine around.

But my clients love them – it’s an opportunity for more intimate networking, they are able to try restaurants that wouldn’t be able to accommodate our entire group, they can generally eat a la carte, they have more interaction with the host firm, and they meet with a group of people that they don’t necessarily engage with otherwise. Plus, everyone has something different to talk about the next day when the full group gets back together.

Our organization is built on relationships, so those benefits far outweigh any hiccups that it presents me from an organizational standpoint. And just as importantly, I have had to learn to roll with the punches – on those evenings, I’m dealing with several groups of people going to different places, trying to match them up with people and hosts they’ve never met before, and getting them to the correct locations at the right time, while trying to find the latecomers, fielding general questions, etc. It’s quite chaotic. And when I’m flexible and go into it with a “let’s do this” attitude, everyone goes off happy and content, even if there have been delays or changes.

When I dig my heels in and try to do it my way, it still goes the way it goes, but I’m unhappy and so are my clients.

Obviously legal work is different in some important respects, but how many of us are working with our clients to come to solutions and solve problems? Are we stuck in our own way of doing things, or are we willing to try someone else’s ideas? When a client comes to you with a unique problem, do you just say “no,” or do you offer them alternatives and think creatively?

Here’s another quick example – I was on a call today for the Legal Marketing Association’s Technology Committee sub-committee that I serve on, and we’re talking about ideas and goals for a project we’ve been working on. Everyone on the call had suggestions for things that we want out of the project, and ways to make it successful, which was great. And that all happened because without even planning it, we all adopted the “yes, and…” mentality.

Each idea was excellent, so that helped, but everyone on the call would agree with each idea, and discuss why it would work, and that fostered additional brainstorming and other ideas. The more we heard “yes,” the more enthusiastic we were about sharing our own thoughts – the spirit of positive collaboration makes a huge difference in getting the best out of all of us. We may not be able to incorporate everything we talked about today, but we all left the call feeling inspired and positive.

This is where the combination of today’s two tips is important – responsiveness is great, but if you’re just quickly emailing someone back to tell them why their idea or scenario isn’t possible, you’re not doing much to help the client relationship.

But, if you are being responsive and open-minded, focused on what’s going to get your client to their goals and make them feel taken care of (with a good attitude), you’re really building those bridges to keep your clients happy.