Effective client communication is a topic that can be easily overlooked in the day to day management of a firm but can play a major role in its success…or failure. Today’s clients demand a higher level of professional, timely customer service and firms that ignore this trend do so at their own peril. In fact, the failure to adequately communicate is one of the top state bar complaints made by clients against lawyers.
If you haven’t given much thought to the effectiveness of your client communications previously, incorporating a few new tools and techniques into your client interactions is a great place to start. Here are three ideas to consider.
1) Use client portals. As web-based portals become increasingly common in other industries, it’s not surprising that many clients now expect instant access to their legal matter information as well. For the times you aren’t available to answer a client’s call immediately, web portals can provide them with 24/7 secure access to their case information.
Online portals make it easy for clients to quickly and securely find answers to many common questions, effectively streamlining the communications process and cutting down on the inevitable back-and-forth phone tag. For example, clients no longer have to call the office just to request a copy of a document in their file – they can access the entire file at their convenience in the portal. You can learn more about the benefits of MyCase’s client portal here.
2) Practice your listening skills. According to business development advisor and coach Kimberly Alford Rice, an untrained listener is likely to retain about 50 percent of a conversation shortly after it is finished. After a few days, recall of the conversation is “usually inaccurate.” It should come as no great surprise then that clients make such frequent complaints about communications with their attorneys!
One simple practice that can help you hone your listening skills and close the communications gap is to always repeat back, in your own words, the key points and emotion(s) a client is trying to convey to you. By summarizing both the content and feelings of client comments, you confirm to yourself that you were accurately interpreting their thoughts and you confirm to your client that you completely understand their point of view (regardless of whether you agree!). Making a conscious effort to always confirm your understanding can help reduce miscommunications while also improving client satisfaction.
3) Have the money talk. Another way to improve the quality of communications with your clients is to talk in detail about fee and cost estimates at the start of their case, or even to consider flat fee billing. One of the big potential downsides to hourly billing for small firm and solo practitioners is the ongoing, uncomfortable fee and collection discussions with clients. By giving clients more clarity from the outset regarding the anticipated scope of their case (e.g. attorney hours required, court costs, expert witness fees, etc.) you can help ease those tensions.
If you think you can accurately estimate the scope of a client’s matter in your area of practice, flat fee billing is also something to consider. To learn more about how to minimize the risks and reap the rewards of fixed fees, watch Lee Rosen’s webinar, “Fixed Fees: Ditching the Billable Hour” here.
These are just a few of the concrete steps you can take to improve communications with your clients. If you’re not already using these techniques why not try incorporating one or two of them into your practice today and reap the benefits of improved client communication!