This is the second and final part on the topic of how you might engage your assistant in your legal marketing efforts. In the first part, we established that client service is a team sport and everyone working with clients ought to have the same intention to win client loyalty and create long term relationships.
These tips are for motivated teams who are looking to build a successful long term client-centric practice. Implementing the basic and advanced tips takes extra time and energy, so choose your assistant carefully and compensate accordingly.
File opening habits – consistency with your file opening process will provide you with helpful data at the end of the year. Ask your assistant to note essential client details such as area of law, responsible lawyer, originating lawyer, client industry (if applicable), referral source or how they heard about you or the firm. Filtering by these fields will help you recognize where work is coming from, the areas of focus or interest of your clients and which lawyer(s) is connected with your clients. With this data, marketing strategies can be designed more thoughtfully. For instance, future communications can be tailored specifically to the anticipated needs of your clients, referral sources can be tracked, and (some) business development activities can be measured.
File closing habits – Keep an inventory of your experience – whenever you close a file, ask your assistant to make a 30-second notation about the matter. Include the matter type, client industry, results of the file and anything noteworthy. Use keywords that you might use to search your document to find a specific matter many years later. A law practice of 10 years or greater can grow – and change – rapidly. As your expertise and value is largely defined by the work you’ve done and the success you’ve achieved for clients, keep a record of your work so that you can easily point to specific matters when asked by a client or a marketing professional seeking expertise for a client proposal.
Keep track of referrals – your champions, your referral sources, your supporters will keep waving your flag until you stop noticing their commitment to you. It’s easy to forget who they are if you first don’t even know who they are. Sounds silly, right? Yet, I have yet to meet a lawyer who can produce a complete list of their referral sources inside of 48 hours. Have your assistant help record your referral sources and keep track of their favourite restaurants, wines and other preferences for you to act on when needed.
Note your gratitude – the personal touch still works, and can actually help you stand out. Your assistant should not only have a stack of beautiful cards on hand (think local artists), but should be presenting one to you for a quick message and legible signature when appropriate. This thoughtful gesture is unexpected by clients and creates a memorable experience.
Get client intelligence – set Google Alerts for your top clients and prospective clients. Each alert takes seconds – really, seconds – to set up and could yield some great intelligence on specific companies or individuals. Google Alerts bring you online results that match your search terms either in real time, daily or as a weekly digest. If you are looking for effective ways of staying on top of your clients’ key activities or finding ways to connect with prospects, this is your best bet. Your assistant can filter much of the irrelevant links and content in just a few minutes by scanning the results page. Every once in a while though, you’ll discover some essential news on your contacts so you can follow-up thoughtfully or pursue additional work.
Post to social media sites – if you’re active in one or more social media applications, get some help managing it. Write several posts at once on a regular interval and ask your assistant to help get them posted, apply images or monitor updates of your shortlist of contacts. Even an hour of help per week can take your practice and profile to a higher level, as long as it’s done consistently and strategically.
If you’re lucky enough to have an assistant who’s willing and able to help with one or more of the above activities, count yourself fortunate and show your gratitude.
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.
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 more difficult 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 – often a client will be more social with an assistant and will share special information such as a noteworthy celebration, a favourite florist, a new restaurant or a concernnote the softer stuff. Follow-ups on promises or follow-ups of nice things. Good doctor check-in
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 to travel to your office. Empower and train your assistant to greet your client, make your apologies, seat him/her in the boardroom and water and, if necessary, feed them. 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.