Client service leads to client satisfaction. But in a recent Lawyerist post, Roy Ginsburg warned lawyers that clients may not be as satisfied as their lawyers think they are; merely because clients pay their bills, do not complain, and do not switch to another firm does not necessarily mean they are satisfied. Unfortunately, his post did not address what lawyers can do to improve client service and thereby improve client satisfaction.

Improving Client Service

Gyi Tsakalakis covered client service in an excellent 2011 post that contains advice from many well-known lawyers, and the ‘big picture’ client service tips bear repeating, including advice on being available for clients, tracking and analyzing client feedback, resolving complaints, getting to know your clients and their business, and treating every client as if they were your best client. All firms claim to do these things (just take a look at any law firm website), yet clients still seem to think that these behaviors are scarce in the legal marketplace.

Consider a study done last year by BTI Consulting Group, the Premium Practices Forecast 2012, a survey of corporate legal spending that contains lessons for all lawyers, including those who do not work in the corporate world. (Hat tip Eric Dewey of Lawyer Up!  for his post entitled, “What to Expect in the 2012 Legal Market.”) According to the survey, the activities deemed by clients to be of the highest importance and the most difficult to find ( activities which BTI claims bring “Superior Financial Rewards”) were: commitment to help, providing value for the dollar, client focus and understanding the client’s business – the very behaviors highlighted by those who contributed to Tsakalakis’ post last year.

So why do clients still perceive that lawyers fail to provide the excellent client service all lawyers claim and strive to provide? Perhaps lawyers understand the concepts, but fail to implement them in a practical manner on a day to day basis.

Managing clients’ expectations is one of the cornerstones of excellent client service. Some practical ways to manage expectations include: outlining the process for clients at the beginning of the engagement so they know the steps the matter will likely progress through, anticipating clients’ wants and needs,  defining the scope of the engagement in writing, and developing a list of frequently asked questions to deliver the basic information clients need. Client feedback is another important, and often overlooked, aspect of client service.  Too often, lawyers wait until the end of the engagement to ask for feedback, or fail to ask at all, incorrectly assuming that if the client had something to say, they would say it without being asked. Incorporating regular requests for feedback into every engagement can uncover some areas for improvement.

Technology and Client Service

Another practical way that lawyers can improve their client service is by recruiting technology to help in the effort, not just to improve internal efficiency (much of which is invisible to clients), but to provide a direct, observable benefit to clients. These include:

Client Portals

Most lawyers hate when clients call and ask them the same questions over and over, or when clients are impatient and want answers immediately, even if the lawyer is in court or otherwise unavailable. But a client waiting for a response hast the potential to become a dissatisfied client very quickly.

A client portal is a secure place where clients can go to obtain information about their matter without having to call your office. Clients can track the progress of their matter, view a calendar with upcoming dates related to their case, send messages to the team working on their matter, and receive updates or review documents. Clients log in with their own individual password to the site and they can view whatever documents, messages or upcoming dates the lawyer allows them access to. The client can get information or answers about what is happening on their case at any time, from anywhere (as long as they have an internet connection), relieving the client’s anxiety and improving satisfaction.

Collaborating with Clients on Documents

Put an end to endless rounds of emails, trying to keep track of versions of documents or forgotten email attachments. Instead, collaborate directly with clients on documents either through a dedicated client portal or through the many document and file sharing programs available. All parties with access to the document will always see the most updated version.

Eliminating Unnecessary Client Meetings

When clients have to travel to your office to meet with you, it costs them time and money (particularly with the skyrocketing price of gas!). But if the client doesn’t need to be physically present to get the same benefit from the meeting, consider using technology to allow your client to meet with you from their home or office by holding a ‘virtual meeting. Use a webcam, services like Skype or Facetime if you need to see one another, or use a screen-sharing program if you want your clients to see what you see on your computer screen.

Making Meetings Count

Sometimes you need an in-person meeting. In that case, be sure your client has your full attention. Instead of meeting in your office, where distractions from telephone calls, email and other work can interrupt the flow of the meeting, go into a conference room where you are cut off from everything else. If you must meet in your office, hold your calls, turn off your email, and do not allow interruptions from coworkers.

Make sure you have access to all of the information you might need during the meeting at your fingertips so you do not have to leave the room or ask your assistant for help. Whether you use a laptop, smartphone or tablet connected to your system, having available technology that allows you to reach your calendar, files, or the internet (for a quick check of the court’s calendar for example) right there with you in the meeting can save time and demonstrate to clients that you’re on top of your game – and your client’s legal matter.

Streamlining Client Payments

Every lawyer hates chasing clients for money. Use technology to make that task less onerous by setting up automated electronic payment systems. If you have not done so yet, be sure your firm can take credit cards with a merchant account through your bank, or get a device that allows you to accept credit card payments right through your iPad or smartphone. Send clients invoices via email with a link to click to allow them to pay directly from the email.

Client service means finding ways to make the legal process and working with you easier for your clients. The easier it is to work with you, the more satisfied your clients will be. How will you know if they are satisfied? They’ll show their appreciation by referring other clients.

(photo: cubes with the letters from Shutterstock)

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