The complaining customer doesn’t want a refund. He wants a connection, an apology and some understanding. He wants to know why you made him feel stupid or ripped off or disrespected, and why it’s not going to happen again.
How do you deal with the complaining customer? You can start by learning how to apologize.
(Image from Hugh MacLeod’s series of “Business Greeting Cards“)
Wouldn’t it be cool to have a bunch of legal-related images you could use to create visual explanations (replacing text-heavy, multi-page letters) of the legal process for your clients ? I thought so too.
Stay tuned. Lots more to come…
I ran across a funny list of Google Autocomplete “Fails” and thought I’d see how Google would autocomplete a few legal-related queries.
Sadly, the results aren’t very promising for lawyers. Here are just a few of the results:
My lawyer is …
Lawyers are …
My Lawyer Won’t …
Perhaps none of this comes as a surprise to you, but it is important to recognize just how little our clients are prepared to think of us. It isn’t good enough to do what your peers are doing, you must do more and be better.
And next time you are deciding whether to return that client call tonight or put it off until tomorrow morning, go ahead and read some of the 72,000,000 Google results for “My lawyer won’t return my calls.” My guess is you’ll be picking up the phone before you head home for dinner.
Lawyers are among the most creative, innovative professionals so long as they’re doing client work. When the time comes to solve their own business challenges, they never seem to take the time they should.
Here’s why: it is hard to take the time required to achieve creative, game-changing innovation when there’s “real” billable work to be done — and the higher your hourly rate, the bigger the innovation penalty feels:
Here’s the important thing: while sitting a a desk (or a park, or a museum) asking open-ended “How might we…” questions might not feel like work, it is one of the few things you can do to make certain you’ll still be lawyering in five years or more.
There’s big change coming to the legal biz and only those putting in the time and effort today to prepare for the future will be ready when it arrives.
From a recent presentation on becoming a more “creative” counsel:
Self-described “Tech/Business Geek” Jason Crawford gives us some great questions to ask ourselves before we (usually mistakenly) think of the people we work with as “stupid.” He reminds us that “[d]ifferences in judgement are rarely due to stupidity,” and suggests we instead work to understand others’ thinking process, biases and emotions. I’ve found that lawyers are particularly susceptible to mis-diagnosing their non-lawyer* clients this way.
Here are some of my favorite questions he suggests we ask ourselves before playing the “stupid” card:
And a few particularly relevant to lawyers:
Next time you are tempted to think of a client as “stupid,” you should look in the mirror first. Your failure to ask yourself these questions about your clients may make you the stupid one.
* Stop calling the talented, committed professionals in your office who were smart enough to avoid law school ”non-lawyers.” It demeans them and makes you look like a smug, self-important ass.
- Evolutionary Road: A Strategic Guide to Your Law Firm’s Future (published by Attorney At Work). It’s a 40-page e-book that provides lawyers and law firms with a strategic guide to the future of the legal market and where they fit into that future. I set out five stages of current and future developments in the marketplace, through the year 2020 and beyond, and supplement those forecasts with tools and recommendations with which firms can build strategic plans and embark upon retreats to chart their own course forward. It retails for $US19.
I really liked these practical tips from designer Mark Busse teaching us when to say “no” to clients. I’ve taken the liberty of replacing “designers” with “lawyers” and find the advice not only relevant, but spot-on:
The fact is that [lawyers] are defined by the very work we produce and by the clients we work for, so if you want to excel and be highly successful, you need to be thoughtful, strategic and diligent in deciding what opportunities you accept.
On working for “crazy” clients:
Nobody wants to work with crazy people, right? It’s just not worth it. And as your reputation will be linked to those you work for, it’s important not to rush into opportunities just because you need the experience or money. Remember that you should be evaluating clients and projects as much as they are you. Ask questions. You owe it to your own sanity to poke around first.
A few of his six practical tips:
2. Consider your long-term goals in terms of the kind and calibre of projects you’d like to do and be known for. If an opportunity won’t attract the kind of clients you seek, or the project may serve as a distraction or inhibit you from taking other work, consider declining.
4. Practice talking openly about money up front. Ask what the budget allocated for the project is. If they refuse to divulge that information, that’s a red flag. If you are forced to be the first to offer an estimated budget before real scope is established, resist the urge to offer a low price to win them over—do the opposite and offer a higher budget range. You’d be surprised how often this positions you as a confident expert in the minds of the buyer and increases appeal.
What are your tips for declining client work? Do you have your own Client Worthiness Index?
I’m often amazed at how little strategic thinking lawyers give to new client selection. It is one of the reasons I created the Client Worthiness Index, and is also why I’m sharing my New Client Strategy Plan (.pdf).
The New Client Strategy Plan is a worksheet that I’ve been using in law firm retreats for a few months. It is loosely based on the wonderful Business Model Generation Canvas, and is designed to get lawyers ask client-focused questions of themselves and their peers before signing (or even targeting) a new client.
It is divided into nine areas, each which asks a series of client-focused questions. The areas (and supplemental questions) are:
Who will do their work?
- What is the work and who will do it?
- What support do they need to get it done?
- Will they need additional lawyers or staff?
What else can we do for them?
- What other opportunities are there for new work?
- Are there additional legal services they may need?
- Who else in the firm should meet with them?
Where do they need us?
- Are we in a location that serves them well?
- Should we be located elsewhere?
What technology do they demand?
What must we get better at?
- What legal and non-legal skills must we improve?
- How will we learn those skills?
- How might we measure our improvement?
How do they pay for it?
- Do they want to be billed by the hour?
- Can we price our services differently?
- How would they design our pricing?
Who are their key decision makers?
- Who must we convince to hire us?
- How will we find them?
- What do they want to know about us?
Why won’t they hire us?
- What are the roadblocks to hiring us?
- Who will be our key competitors?
- What should we worry most about?
What must we change?
- What things in our firm must we change?
- Will our firm structure support their needs?
- Does our compensation plan reward the behaviors that serve them best?
If there are additional (or better) questions you think I should be asking, let me know.
And the next time you’re strategizing about serving a new client, print out a New Client Strategy Plan (.pdf) and fill it out. Even better, complete one with your best, existing client in mind. You might be shocked to find you don’t have all the answers you thought you did.