Everyone’s familiar with the old adage that a a bird in hand is worth two in the bush. Yet no where is that advice more important, or less frequently heeded than in a service profession like law. All too often, lawyers direct their marketing budgets and personal energy at attracting a steady stream of prospects, yet scrimp when it comes to impressing existing clients.
Compare the effort that many lawyers devote to attracting prospects versus how they treat existing clients. The lawyer who once offered a free consult to a potential client now bills for every ten minute phone call now that the client is engaged. The lawyer who readily skipped lunch to meet with a prospect, now takes a week to return phone calls after she’s been engaged. The lawyer who thought nothing of paying $100 for leads that could generate a $1500 matter now charges the client for postage and hands the client his documents in a cheap manilla folder because the lawyer is too cheap to pay a few more dollars to provide the client with a nicer looking packet that might really make a good impression.
It’s not surprising that lawyers don’t pay more attention to service. After all, most lawyers are results-oriented and figure that a client’s experience doesn’t matter so long as the lawyer attains a good result. In addition, in contrast to auto-service where customers return repeatedly for check-ups and other problems, most consumers of legal services – whether it’s a criminal case or preparation of a will or a bankruptcy – rarely have a need to return to the lawyer once the case is closed. Thus, lawyers may figure that they won’t get much return on investment in customer service since few clients some back.
Most of these assumptions are misplaced. Though competence counts more than cheeriness in handling a client matter, even so, most clients who are paying a significant sum of money for a service want to be treated well, as a matter of basic courtesy. In addition, while many clients don’t necessarily bring in repeat business, those that do represent low-hanging fruit: as I showed in this slide deck, you’ll spend 11 times more to bring in a new client than to generate business from existing clients.
Finally – and most importantly, even if satisfied clients don’t have more business
So why is maintaining ties to clients so important? Several reasons. First, it’s cheaper to get business from your present clients. As I noted in this previously posted slide deck, it costs a whopping eleven times more to bring a new client through the door than to mine existing clients for business. The statistic makes sense – we’re all familiar with the enormous resources involved in getting your name out just so that a prospect can find you and thereafter, closing the deal. With existing clients, the expense of bringing them in is virtually eliminated, because they already know who you are. Moreover, having hired you once before, most of your past clients trust you – so the only hurdle left is convincing them of a need for additional legal service.
Of course, not all lawyers get (or want to get) repeat business. Many legal matters – such as bankruptcy, criminal law and family law involve one time situations rather than an ongoing relationship. Even there, however,
lawyers will reap rewards from treating clients well, because they’ll go out of their way to refer clients, or at least, provide a favorable testimonial, which is also a valuable benefit. In fact, that’s the whole strategy behind online shoe company Zappo’s iconic customer service: the company recognizes thatcustomers who are bowled over by Zappo’s great service will recommend the company to others.
So what does it take to treat clients well? It’s not rocket science. For starters, put yourself in your clients’ shoes, and think about the experiences that thrill you and alternatively, those that tick you off. For example, no one likes to be nickel-and-dimed — an experience now common when traveling by airplane; so don’t charge clients for ten minute phones calls and postage.
Other ideas include offering special services to clients – perhaps a free or low cost annual review of a will or incorporation that you’ve already prepared. The ongoing service keeps clients from even thinking about using other firms. Further, if you happen to learn of a change in the client’s circumstances while undertaking the review, the client might retain you to make the necessary corrections. You can also use new mobile tools, as described here to send coupons to a webinar or a free consultation to clients that they can use themselves or pass on to a friend. Free webinars are another extra that clients may appreciate.
But most of all, clients just want to be treated like human beings. Which means making it easy for clients to get in touch with you and leave a message. Or returning phone calls and emails when you promised to do so. Or just remembering basic courtesies like asking about your client’s family or sending birthday cards.
To reference another adage, just as the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence, so too prospective clients may seem superior to existing ones – possibly richer or with more complex or interesting matters. But if you’re always looking for business in another yard, you may neglect cultivating the clients right in front of you and in doing so, you may miss out on the many benefits that a loyal client base can bring to your firm.