As we enter into a new year, firms would do well to renew their commitment to really focusing on and taking care of their key clients. Too often, clients are taken for granted or viewed merely as a source of revenue. Firms focus on getting new matters, cross-selling and pitching, often without much attention to what clients really need or want, or to the relationship itself. Relationships with clients must be nurtured in many of the same ways as important personal relationships. While so much energy often goes into “the chase” of landing a new client or new matter, bringing in a new client should be just the beginning of the romance and not the beginning of the end. Clients want to be assured every day that they made the right choice in choosing your firm to help it with its legal problems. Make sure you are doing this by becoming a close and trusted adviser.
Ten Ways to Kick the New Year Off Right with Clients
1. If you did not already do so around the holidays, send a note of thanks and a small gift (if your clients can accept them – many cannot.) It is important to let clients know that you appreciate their trust in you and their business.
2. Keep clients on your radar at all times. Set up a Google alert or use other tools to track client news about the business, promotions, new offices and products, stock activity, etc. Send them emails or give them a call when you come across this news.
3. Monitor the business and legal activities of your clients’ competitors. When possible, share insights and case studies. Arm them with “intelligence” before they need it and provide some suggestions – it is even better if it is useful information that your contact can share with other executives in the c-suite. It will make your contact look smart and strategic.
4. Really understand the client’s business and the way it operates. Go spend a day or two with the client, at their place of business (on your own time/dime.) Ask to follow others around, sit in on meetings, and meet others on the business side. This investment of time will be appreciated by clients and will provide you and your team with a much better sense of what the business is about and how the legal team interacts with the business.
5. Develop a formal and ongoing process of collecting feedback from clients, at the end of each matter and more comprehensively at the end of the year. Develop plans to follow-up on the feedback and to continuously improve your service, value and performance and share these with each client for additional feedback and to let them know you are taking their input to heart.
6. Look around the corner into client needs in 2014. Engage in a strategic conversation about how trends might affect the client, both in the legal and compliance areas as well as in the business. Share insights you’ve gleaned from other clients, regulators and experts that will help your client anticipate challenges and get out ahead of them.
7. Establish client teams and a single point of contact. If you have clients who are served by different partners and practice groups or offices, it is important that clients feel that matters are being well-coordinated internally. Get lawyers and staff who service the client together on a quarterly basis to discuss client matters, explore additional client issues and needs and to determine important relationship strategies. Between meetings there should be ongoing communication flow through a client page on the intranet and internal distribution lists to alert all team members to ongoing correspondence and interaction.
8. Establish individual client service plans. Every client will want to work with its law firms in a different way from communication and billing practices, to staffing and strategy and the level of involvement the in-house team wants to have. For important clients, firms should devise and revise service plans to be sure that all members of the team are following the protocols and preferences established for that client.
9. Don’t forget that the relationship is still personal! With all the pressures to reduce legal fees, use procurement officers, ask firms to bids on cases through RFPs – it is easy to forget that clients have a human side and that personal relationships still often count for more than it might appear. Take time to reach out to clients, get to know what motivates them, what is important to them and how they spend their time outside of the office. This insight should help you build a deeper and lasting bond.
10. Spend a little time every day thinking about clients outside of current/active matters. Maintaining these relationships takes effort. If you fall out of sight, you are quickly off their radar screens. You need to dedicate at least one to two hours a month connecting and reconnecting with clients by phone and in person—don’t forget that face time is still the most effective way to keep a relationship going.
This new year is certain to be another one in which your competitors will be nibbling at your heels, doing everything in their power to get a shot at doing work for “your” clients. Now is the time to be certain that you aren’t taking clients for granted and you’re doing all in your power to increase the frequency and effectiveness of every touch point you have.