Trust: The Basis for Obtaining New Clients and
Strengthening Your Relationship with Your Current Clients
By Liza Vasquez CMC ICF and Jeffrey F. Silber CPA MBA CMC
Certified Master Business and Life Coaches
Trust is such a commonly used word that we all think we know what it means. This can lead to some confusion, so let’s begin by defining what it is.
As a noun, Trust is the firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability, and/or strength of someone. As a verb Trust means to have faith in someone; to rely on the integrity, honesty, strength and ability of another person; to rely upon or place confidence in someone; and to have the confident expectation that a desired result will happen.
Do we agree that no one will give you legal work on behalf of their organization or on behalf of themselves or their loved ones if they do not trust you? In the case of an organization, the decision-maker who will choose you must be extremely careful in recommending you because her/she is exposing him/herself to a great deal of potential criticism. Inasmuch as the practice of law is an Art and not an exact science, anything can go wrong with any particular matter, and even the most competent or most famous lawyer can have a matter go south.
The decision-maker inside the company is protected against a famous lawyer (or famous law firm) from losing a case or making some serious error because the decision-maker can defend his choice by hiding behind the law firm’s Brand and say “… but I chose the most well-known law firm in the country (or in the practice area).”
But if you are not such a world-renowned lawyer, what happens to the decision-maker who recommended you if you lose a case or make a serious error? The decision maker’s boss will say: “Where did you find this lawyer? Why didn’t you choose a larger law firm or someone more prominent?”
In that case, the decision-maker’s job is at risk. That is why selecting outside counsel becomes such an important issue for the decision-maker. The company that hires you is legally your client. But effectively, it is the person inside the company who recommended you who is the client, the person who needs to know that you will not only protect him or her but that you will do an excellent job so that he/she can receive praise for finding you.
The decision-maker needs to Trust you. But how do you build this Trust?
You get one chance to make a first impression. How you dress is superficial – to be sure – but nonetheless very important. There is a current trend to more a more casual appearance among lawyers and neckties seem to be headed for museums. Put the brakes on your decline into further casualization of your wardrobe. You must still look elegant. When you meet a potential client, your appearance must indicate that you are a successful lawyer. For example, even if you do not wear a necktie, we suggest that you use a colorful silk pocket square in the breast pocket of your suit jacket.
This gives the appearance of success.
Even on weekends, we recommend that you wear clothing that is often referred to as “business casual.” Why on the weekends? If you encounter one of your clients in a restaurant, for example, he/she will likely be with friends. If you are introduced “…... I’d like you to meet my lawyer…” You do not want the friend to raise an eyebrow while he is thinking, “…. really, this is your lawyer…?” You can be casual and still look successful.
OK, you look the part of a successful lawyer. Now the potential clients want to know that from a technical point of view, you (or your firm) knows what you are doing. That you are not going to learn on their transaction. Only your experience (or the experience of your firm) will give you this technical credibility.
If you do not have an impressive track record, you may have to wait a bit longer until you have more experience under your belt to go out and do some individual marketing. But you can leverage the experience and track record of your law firm if you personally do not have a confidence-winning legal history.
You look successful. You have the technical skills and history to take care of this potential client’s needs but are you reliable?
Do you have the reputation that your words and your actions match? Are you punctual for meetings? Do you deliver the documents when promised? Do you file court papers on a timely basis and are you always on time for court appearances? You may be a legal genius but can this potential client count on you.
If you ever receive a call from a client asking: Where are the documents, you promised for this morning?” then you have failed. If you are late for meetings, then you have failed. No one expects you to be a machine, but you contact your clients the instant you know you will be late for a meeting or for the delivery of documents, explain why and reschedule.
A potential client will not know about your reliability in advance, but we can assure you that your reputation will precede you.
You have lots of competition. There are many other lawyers who make a good appearance, who have excellent track records and are as reliable as the Swiss Railway. How will the potential client decide which lawyer or law firm to choose in this process of building Trust?
The truth is that many prospective clients do not really know how to evaluate your skills as a lawyer, your credibility or your reliability. They may know about you only what a friend told them, or what you said about yourself on your website.
And at the end of their initial meeting with you, they will likely decide on an emotional level if they felt some chemistry with you. To a large degree, it may be an unconscious response to you. In other words, their decision to trust you may simply come down to whether they like you.
How do you get them to have this ‘feel good” impression about you? It starts when prospective clients arrive at your office, are they nicely greeted by a receptionist? Do they have to wait until someone notices them waiting? Is the reception area comfortable? Are they offered a coffee, tea or other refreshments?
Is the time of their appointment respected? A client or potential client should never be made to wait more than just few minutes. If there is some genuine emergency that detains you, the reception should be informed and he/she should tell the client, “The attorney will be detained just another few minutes because is finishing a client emergency. He/she will be with you very shortly.”?
Now you are in the conference room with the potential client and you are on stage because among equally competent lawyers who all deliver good results, the decision-maker will choose the lawyer he/she likes. The human connection is the winning element between competing lawyers (or law firms) of equal abilities.
When meeting a potential client, show genuine interest in him/her not just in the legal matter that brings them to your office. Find out about his/her life partners, their children, his/her hobbies and so on. This is by far the most important element in building Trust. The decision-maker needs to feel that you genuinely know and care about him/her.
There is a difference between being friendly and becoming friends with potential clients. Your goal is to be friendly. Give the potential client the space to decide if you are going to be friends or just freindly.
You build trust by making the potential client number one. Clients are not impressed by your bragging. After all, it is going to be all about them, not about you. Leave your ego at home. There is never a reason for making someone you meet to feel small. Do not try to top his/her stories.
If they are taking their children skiing for the first time this winter, there is no need to say: “Since I was five years old, my parents used to take me skiing in the South of France every winter.” That sort of thing is pure ego, and does not impress potential clients. Also bragging pushes them away.
There you have the formula for constructing the Trust with potential clients that will turn them into fee-paying clients.
Do you think you need to strengthen your client’s trust in you? If yes, then perhaps we need to do some diagnostic work. How can it be that they are working with you as their lawyer, but they don’t trust you or that their level of trust in you is low.
What Happened to the Client’s Trust?
According to what we have just described, your client trusted you at some point or you would not have won their legal work.
Loss of Trust results in damage to your reputation. Most lawyers will say that the most important asset they own is their reputation. Yet every day, clients are saying they have lost faith in their lawyers. And, as the old saying goes, a happy client will tell three people. An unhappy client will tell 33 people. Good news is no news but bad news spreads like wildfire. Every day, lawyers are damaging their money-making asset, their reputation.
Let’s delve into this. After you finish some work for a client, do you believe the client feels as positive about you as he/she did when you were hired? If you completed the technical aspects of your work successfully, then the issue is more a question of good client communications, human connection and service rather than your actual legal work which might be undermining the client’s Trust in you.
Learning how to maintain the client’s Trust will be an essential element for the long-term success of your practice. Otherwise, you will be constantly dealing with retaining dissatisfied clients whose Trust in you has been eroded for one reason or another.
For example, Bar Associations across the US, report that approximately 55% of all the complaints they receive from clients about their lawyers relate to communications issues. However, it is only a question of perception because 70% to 80% of those grievances are dismissed as having no merit. Basically, there was no malfeasance, no failure to apply the law, no legal incompetence on the part of the lawyers. There was only a “failure of relationship” - a loss of Trust.
This 55% of clients were so profoundly disappointed they filed grievances with their local Bar Association, but how many more were similarly dissatisfied with their lawyers but were not motivated enough to file a grievance? We can estimate that only one in four new clients retain the same Trust in their lawyers at the end of the legal matter as they did at the beginning. That is a sobering statistic.
It is amazing that the cure for losing client Trust is so simple. Between every two people there exist a bank account but instead of financial transactions, the deposits and withdrawals are actions. This is an Emotional Bank Account.
Every person is the president of their own bank and every person they know or meet has an account in their bank. People are either making deposits in the form of positive actions; or they are taking withdrawals in the form of asking for favors or doing something the president of this bank considers unpleasant. The people around you have either a positive balance or an overdrawn balance in your Emotional Bank Account.
With your clients, whether you are aware of it or not, you are continuously making deposits or taking withdrawals from your client’s Emotional Bank Account. The reason that 55% of clients were so dissatisfied with their lawyers was because the lawyer had an overdrawn balance with the client.
The cure for losing Trust is to continuously make deposits into the Emotional Bank Account of your clients. Here are some points worth mentioning.
Communicate with every client at least once a month even if there is no advance in their matter. They need to be reassured that you are on top of their case. Use the occasion to build the Human Connection and ask about the client’s family and upcoming vacations. Keep in mind you should remember the names of his/her family members and what is special about each one.
Periodically have lunch with your clients.
If appropriate, find out what sports teams your client supports. Every once in a while call your client to chat about some recent matches/games.
When you finish a piece of work for a client, meet with them for a debriefing on your service. Ask the client what about the process and interaction with you and your firm they liked and what they would change or want to improve. Ask if the communication method was what they wanted or what would they prefer. Text message vs. email vs telephone call. MSN Text vs. WhatsApp.
Find ways to be a value-added lawyer by making connections between clients where you can see that there might be some synergy.
When there are changes in the law affecting your client, offer to do a seminar for their operating staff as well as their legal staff on how the changes will affect their business.
If it is legal for the client to accept a small gift, offer tickets to sporting events or concerts – the best would be to go with your client to the event.
Remember your client’s birthday and send a text message or an e-mail. If you are notified through LinkedIn or Facebook about your client’s birthday, do NOT send birthday greetings through those social media. That makes it appear that you actually did not remember their birthday but had to be reminded. Instead, send them a birthday greeting by text message or email.
Give your clients small Christmas or other holiday gifts such as a bottle of wine. Do not make these gifts to lavish or the client will think your fees are too high if you can afford such gifts.
Ask to visit your client’s factory or store or office. Tell them it will help you represent them if you understand their operations better. If course, do not charge for this time. In fact, put on their next invoice: Three hours visiting factory – no charge.
By doing as many of these activities, by making these deposits in your clients Emotional Bank Account, you will have no trouble maintaining their Trust and thereby retaining their loyalty and converting them into a source of referrals.
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