Many attorneys think of business development solely in terms of acquiring new clients. I’ll suggest that client retention is far more important, so much so that I recommend that my coaching clients spend two-thirds of their biz dev time on client retention, and one-third on targeting new clients. If you consider that it may take from two to five years for an initial contact to become a client, it makes sense to keep the clients you already have. In addition, a satisfied client is the best resource for referrals to additional clients.
Your success at client retention is directly tied to client satisfaction. Given that many clients are reluctant to deliver negative feedback, your marketing efforts should include conversations with your clients at the end of every matter. Find out what worked well and what you could have done better. Obviously, a positive outcome is ideal, but even a less than perfect result won’t ruin your relationship if you managed your client’s expectations and stayed in communication.
Don’t Make Your Clients Ask “Where Is It?”
Any time a client starts a conversation with “where is my …[fill in the blank: brief, document, motion, report],” you have either missed a deadline, taken more time than the client thought you should, or not communicated in a timely manner. In short, you have broken my first rule of biz dev: it’s all about the client. Don’t make your clients ask for their work. Every time your client has to request information, you have made him or her do your job, which means that you are making it harder to work with you. In addition, you may have created an emergency that disrupts today’s deadlines. When you proactively manage your client’s expectations, you can better manage your own work flow.
Proactive management means that you pay attention to the issues that are important to your clients. When do they need to provide information to their senior management team or their Boards of Directors? Are you on budget? If not, have you explained why you’re over budget and what you are doing to control costs? Anticipate your clients’ needs. In a competitive business environment, it is better to be proactive than merely reactive.
Client Retention / Satisfaction Checklist
Delivering excellent client service requires more than delivering competent work product. The following are some of the issues that make a difference to your clients.
Communication. Don’t wait for your client to call you or send an email with the dreaded “where is it” question. Anticipate their needs, manage their expectations, and stay in communication. Your client knows you are busy, and he or she knows you can’t answer every question immediately. Resist the temptation to reply “Thx” to a client email. We all know that means you are busy with another client. It’s better to say that you will respond when you can truly focus your attention on the message.
Invoices. Think of them as an opportunity to communicate. Call your client to discuss the invoice before you finalize and send it out. This is an opportunity to alert the client about any potential issues and let them know whether you have made adjustments to your hours. Particularly at the end of the fiscal year, a client may request a change to accommodate budget issues. A descriptive, accurate invoice can be a source of client satisfaction, which brings us to the next topic.
Time sheets. If you are still committed to the billable hour, be as accurate as humanly possible when you record your time. One of my clients was reluctant to bill four hours of research time, but when we made a list of all the issues she had covered, it was obvious that the time reflected what was actually done.
Status reports. A simple weekly email with brief bullet points will tell your client what work was completed the previous week, your deliverables for this week, and what issues have longer-term deadlines. Once you create a format, it is easy to update the status report. Your client never has to call to ask the “where is it” question, and the two of you can negotiate alternate deadlines, if necessary. The status report also serves as a back-up to your invoice. The client knows what you have been working on and will expect to see your billable hours on those matters.
You may be thinking that these practices will take too much time, but once you incorporate them into your schedule, you will find that they save you a great deal of time and improve your client relationships.