Maintaining Good Client Relationships

For those of you who regularly read my articles or blog posts, or read other marketing articles, you know that it takes 80% of your marketing efforts to generate the 20% of your new business which comes from new clients. And you know that it usually takes a minimum of seven quality “touches” to turn a stranger into a prospect, and ultimately into a client.

A “touch” can include such things as attendance at your seminar, reading your article, having your name mentioned by a referral source trusted by the prospect, and so forth.

Once a client, the lion’s share of your time will be spent on relationship management. This is designed to both maintain and protect the relationship, as well as to expand the amount of work you receive from the client. In this case, it is time well spent because it takes only 20% of your marketing effort to generate 80% of your new business, which comes from existing clients.

How should you react when the client expresses dissatisfaction with some aspect of your firm’s performance or treatment? Well, how you should NOT react is defensively. The last thing you want to do is try to justify what is perceived by the client as unacceptable. It puts you at odds with the client, and erodes the relationship by putting each of you on opposite sides of the fence.

So you should listen with a neutral posture. When people feel “heard,” problems are more easily resolved. Sometimes just the act of giving someone a chance to tell his or her story goes a long way towards resolving the dispute and satisfying the client in many cases.

Andrea Goldman, a partner in the law firm of Gately & Goldman, LLP, in Newton, Massachusetts, who focuses on mediation and arbitration, among other things, suggests that using the skills required for the mediation process is an excellent way of resolving disputes with clients, while furthering the firm’s marketing goals.

In an article written for ABA’s General Practice, Solo and Small Firm Division E-Newsletter, Goldman identifies six steps for mediation:

1. Give the person an opportunity to tell his or her story;

2. Summarize his/her version of the story;

3. Discuss what he/she would like to see happen to resolve the disagreement;

4. Generate further ideas for possible solutions;

5. Cooperatively choose amongst these solutions; and

6. If necessary, write up an agreement, and have both parties sign the agreement.

What if you don’t agree with the client’s perspective? Apologize anyway. Even if you believe that you are in the right, you can still express regret that your client has had a problem. Unless the complaint alleges malpractice on the part of the firm, you lose nothing by apologizing. And the apology generally carries a great deal of weight with the client.

Try to make your client an active participant in the resolution process by asking how he or she would like to see the matter resolved or handled in the future. You might be surprised to find that his/her solution can be easily implemented, and help to avoid similar problems with other clients in the future.

If the suggested solution is impossible, explain why, and offer an alternative, and/or solicit the client’s help in creating alternatives. Making the client feel acknowledged as a result of involving them in the process will recreate a cooperative atmosphere and make sure you are both on the same side of the fence.

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