What You Don’t Know CAN Hurt You

Debra L. Bruce, JD, PCC.

I have had my business and personal accounts at the same bank for 16 years, but for over a year, I have been thinking of changing banks.  In fact, I would have already moved my accounts if it weren’t such a hassle to transfer all those automatic payments.  I had the intention to find a better bank one day.

What does my bank account have to do with your law practice?  You may have clients just like me, without knowing it.  For years, I had a happy relationship with the bank, but over the last several years, that relationship declined.

I just didn’t feel like a valued customer any more.  The bank instituted procedures that inconvenienced me.  They began charging me small fees that they formerly waived on my account. I found a couple of small errors on my statements. Due to turnover and reassignments, I found myself dealing with a new person every time I had a need or a problem. As far as I knew, I didn’t even have an account officer anymore. Because my work keeps me on the phone or out of the office much of the day, I preferred to relay my questions or requests by email after regular business hours.  I rarely got a response until I made a follow-up phone call, however, even when I sent the email directly to a real person.

Each time I received an offer in the mail, with an incentive to move my accounts, I thought about it again. Only inertia and inconvenience kept me there. If someone just made it easy for me, I would be gone!


Check Your Assumptions

Are you assuming that your clients are happy with your services just because you haven’t heard otherwise?  Do you communicate with them in the method that they prefer?  Do they have the opportunity to build relationship with you and other people in your office, so that they feel valued and have a sense of continuity?  Could there be little things about your service that rub them the wrong way again and again?  Do you have competitors promising them a better experience?  


Ask for Feedback

How can you know the answer to these questions?  Ask your clients!  Contact them today. Send them a brief client satisfaction inquiry whenever you complete a matter.  It could be as simple as a personal email with just four questions: 

  1. Were you happy with our service?
  2. What worked well for you?
  3. What do you wish we would do differently?
  4. How could we make it easier for you? 

Make it easy for them to respond, whether by email, phone or in person.  

Periodically meet with your clients to find out how things are going. Ask what your competitors are doing that they find beneficial.  Are there innovations they wish you would adopt?  Do they like how their calls are handled in your office?  Are you using their preferred method of communication?  Do they have any comments about their experience with staff members or lawyers in your firm?


Is Your Client Your Boss?

If you’re a young lawyer, you may feel like you don’t have enough contact with clients to make such inquiries.  Perhaps you should share this article with someone else in your organization.  Perhaps your real clients are the partners you work with.  Don’t wait for an annual review (which most law firms handle poorly anyway).  At the end of a project, ask for half an hour of the partner’s time and ask those four questions.


Don’t Be Afraid; Be Afraid Not To

When I ask attorneys whether they ever request feedback, many shrink back in horror. They are afraid to hear what the client will say. If they don’t know about client complaints, however, how can they fix the situation? They could be on the verge of losing a client, or missing out on potential referrals, because of something within their ability to address.


The Bank Called

Someone from the bank called recently about a wire transfer from my overseas client. She asked to meet with me to get to know me and my business better. I agreed to meet her, but it wasn’t high on my priority list. She had to follow up a couple of times to make it happen.

When we met, she asked about my experience with the bank’s services. I gave her a polite, but very frank response. I was quite peeved, but she handled the situation with equanimity and expertise.


Soothing the Beast

Perhaps you can learn from what she did. She:

  1. Expressed concern and asked for more details.
  2. Gave me uninterrupted time to vent.
  3. Apologized for my experience.
  4. Suggested some potential solutions to the issues and problems I raised.
  5. Requested my feedback on those ideas.
  6. Asked if I had any more problems or concerns.
  7. Addressed the additional concerns I raised.
  8. Told me she would now be my account officer, and I could count on her because she had been with the bank 14 years.
  9. Asked again whether I had any suggestions or further concerns.
  10. Made a note of my suggestions.
  11. Promised to follow up with me by email (my preferred method) respecting action items we identified.
  12. Encouraged me to contact her directly if I had any other problems.
  13. Asked me one more time whether I had any other problems, concerns or suggestions.
  14. Thanked me for taking time out of my busy schedule, and for my candor.

We didn’t identify a solution to to every problem I raised, but we discussed some reasonable work-arounds. She followed up later, as promised.

I decided that maybe I didn’t need to change banks after all.

Post by Debra L. Bruce reprinted with permission from the February 10, 2011, issue of  The Legal Intelligencer. (c) 2010 ALM Media Properties, LLC. Further duplication without permission is prohibited.  All rights reserved.


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