Creating a positive client experience is a team sport. Everyone who is in contact with your clients should be singing from the same song sheet so that your clients have a synchronized experience with you. Anyone off-key will bring the whole choir down, so to speak.
Your assistant, typically, has regular contact with your clients and is in a position to advance your team’s ability to deliver high quality service to your clients, resulting in client loyalty and more meaningful long term relationships.
At the risk of adding on to your assistant’s busy desk, there are a few easy things that can really tip the scales in your favour. Here are a few basic items, with more advanced ones to come in my next column, giving your team a few weeks to try on the items below for size. I welcome your comments and thoughts on how you engage your assistant in your client service and marketing.
Share your vision – as the “leader” of your team, set the client standard early and hire accordingly. Just as expectations have risen for lawyers, they have for staff also. Consider first how you wish your clients to feel while engaged with your office and how you’d like them to describe your services to others. Engage your team!
Practice great client communication skills – the art of sounding calm during a stressful day, responding helpfully to client needs, using a “sunny” tone of voice, asking the right questions (rather than simply taking a message for the lawyer), is easier than it sounds when speaking to a multitude of clients each day. These interpersonal skills are, without overstating, critical to the client experience, especially when we consider the anxiety that’s often felt by clients who are calling your office.
Facilitate messages and responses – phone systems differ, but what is the same is a client’s desire to understand how communication works internally. Before a call is transferred to a lawyer’s office, ensure the client knows if they should expect voicemail or a live voice, and always tell them how to get back to your extension (i.e. by pressing “0”) should they decide to not leave a voicemail message. Whenever possible, empower your assistant to estimate when you’ll likely be returning phone calls – if even a quick voicemail response back to the client. In the spirit of confidentiality, confirm your client welcomes messages from you on their voicemail. Explaining this simple process, and the client’s options, will go a long way to reassuring your client how messages can be left and when to expect a call back.
Note special information – sometimes a client will be more social or will share more information with an assistant including a noteworthy celebration, a milestone event, a favourite florist, a new restaurant or other personal information. At times, these can represent opportunities for follow-up by the lawyer and should be scheduled, or otherwise noted as a “bring forward” item. The fact that you noted and acted on something special about the client, could have a significantly positive impact and will factor into his or her experience with you. Very often, a simple handwritten card will be very well received.
Covering for you when you’re running late – sometimes you’ll get caught on the phone, in traffic or in a long meeting. It happens to the best of us, but it’s stressful to keep your next client waiting – especially if they are in your reception area and have gone to the trouble of travelling to your office. Empower and train your assistant to greet your client, make your apologies, seat him/her in the boardroom with water/tea/coffee. One morning I had an assistant order in breakfast for a married couple who were waiting for their lawyer who was stuck in a traffic jam. Based on their reaction, I figure they are clients for life. Avoid leaving a client to wait. Update them and make them as comfortable as possible, or, in extreme cases, offer to reschedule the meeting.
My next column will suggest some more advanced methods that assistants can use to deliver great client service. In the meantime, good luck with the above items.