Part 3 – Your client is your future
What can you do to keep your client and get them to become your referral base? The 1st part of this blog gave tips on how to handle that first telephone conversation to ensure that the client makes and keeps that first appointment. The 2nd part gave you tips on what you can do at the first consultation to get the client to retain you. This 3rd and final part will tell you how to achieve client satisfaction so that your client recommends you to others. Your clients can become, perhaps your biggest, referral base.
1. Your client comes first
You may have heard the expression “same day policy for returning phone calls”. This should also extend to replying to emails. Every phone call and email should be replied to on the same day. Yes, you are a busy solicitor. You may have been in court all day and feel like you have nothing left. Surely, a couple of phone calls can wait to the next day? Well, think about what you would expect if you were the client. What you don’t want is your client upset with you because you never called them back.
If you do have a busy day, don’t become overwhelmed with incoming emails. Ask your secretary to telephone the clients, or email them back, explaining that you are unavailable all day and may not be able to get back to them the same day. It may not be urgent, and they will appreciate being kept updated. At least they know they are not forgotten.
Alternatively, you may decide to call your client back that evening, and tell them it’s just a courtesy call to let them know you got the message, but that you may need to review their file and call them back tomorrow. Generally, clients call for an update, and it may just take a few minutes to tell them there is nothing new, or that you will chase it up. Sometimes your client needs to hear it from you, and not your secretary, so be sure to call them yourself whenever possible.
2. Does your client understand you?
Unless your client is a lawyer or a person who uses vocabulary more eloquent than your own, use Plain English. If you use legal jargon, explain it. We use expressions like “cause of action”, “quantum”, “injunction”, “caveat”, and “indemnity”, daily, but most people don’t know what they mean. Assess your client’s understanding as you work with them and adjust you terminology to what is appropriate for them. This extends to your correspondence. Remember, your letters may become evidence, and you don’t want to be told that you should’ve known that your client would not have understood your advice.
3. Keep them in the loop
Some matters are highly litigious and you have regular contact with your client. Other matters, such as personal injury claims, may have dormant periods of time. Don’t let your client feel like they have been forgotten. Develop a “bring up” system every few weeks to follow up on matters that have become stagnant.
Never get in the habit of replying to the other party’s solicitor without first obtaining your client’s instructions. There may be times, of course, when you will have an “off the record” conversation with the solicitor representing the other party. Without these some matters would never settle. However, when you receive a letter from the other side, always send it to your client for their instructions. You may include your advice in the letter to the client, such as what the reply could include. When you receive their instructions, always send the proposed draft letter of response to your client for confirmation.
If you receive a telephone call from the other party’s lawyer, always tell your client. You don’t want to hear your client say in open court “My lawyer never told me that” or “I never saw that letter”. If you develop a practice of always obtaining your client’s instructions, you will know that there will be an email or a file note of those instructions, and you will have nothing to worry about.
4. Your final meeting
When the matter has resolved, make sure that you praise your client for their efforts and how they handled themselves. Tell your client it was a pleasure representing them.
When you prepare your final bill, can you write off some of the high photocopying fees? When you finalise your account, can you include “but to you” and offer a discount? These are the little things that the client will appreciate and remember.
If the outcome was not the best outcome that you could have obtained, and if your client shows some dissatisfaction with you, don’t give up. Finalising their matter professionally, explaining the result in writing, offering a discount on their final bill, and praising them for their conduct will leave a lasting impression. After some time passes the client will likely forget their dissatisfaction, but will remember your professional conduct.
Finally, are there other services you can offer to your client, or services that they can recommend to their family and friends? Your final letter should include a leaflet or brochure on what else your firm can do for them, such as Wills, Powers of Attorney, Conveyance, or Binding Financial Agreements before and during marriage or a de facto relationship.
Looking after your client may sometimes be difficult, but doing so well will build your referral basis, and better your future.
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