Establishing and building relationships with clients is the top concern of every successful law firm.
More than ever, law firms are facing an uphill battle to remain competitive, sparking a renewed focus for firms to strengthen their bonds with their current clients and to forge new ones with potential clients.
Here are four actionable steps firms can take to develop and foster meaningful relationships with their clients.
1. Take an interest in their personal lives.
Your relationship with your client is, by nature, professional. However, acknowledging that you see them as a person instead of just a paycheck can make a world of difference.
Sharing personal information about your own life, family and hobbies can be a good way to prompt your client to do the same. You build a level of comfort and relatability that, depending on how they respond, will allow you to ask them questions about their personal lives without seeming overly intrusive.
For example, what do they do in their free time? Do they have kids, and if so, how old are they? What causes or organizations are important to them and why? You may want to find a simple way to remember this information, as it can be hard to keep track of for multiple clients simultaneously. On the iPhone, there’s a field for adding notes to your contacts, for example. Additionally, if you use a customer-relationship management (CRM) tool, you can note personal information about clients that will be accessible whenever you need it.
The method is less important than the actual practice. What matters is that you’re getting to know your clients on a personal level, which shows that you take an interest in their humanity, helping you forge a stronger, more authentic connection with them.
"What matters is that you’re getting to know your clients on a personal level, which shows that you take an interest in their humanity, helping you forge a stronger, more authentic connection with them."
2. Surprise and delight them with meaningful gifts.
If done right, a thoughtful, well-timed gift can go a long way towards shoring up your bond with your client. According to research from luxury food and beverage provider Cartwright & Butler, 85 percent of businesses said their corporate gifting strategy strengthened client relationships. This jumps to 95 percent of businesses who agree that gifting is an indispensable part of their business strategy with the most important factor being “personalization.”
What qualifies a “personalized” gift is open to debate. However, there are a few simple strategies that you can use to personalize your gift. Avoiding generic, plastic-wrapped baskets of pears and cookies is a good start. Those kinds of gifts are forgettable because they’re so common — and seemingly every company gives their clients something similar during the holidays.
Instead, try choosing a gift that supports a social cause that may resonate more with your client. For example, artisan granola made by women who are recovering from addiction, who are now learning crucial job skills (yes, this does exist!) is more likely to stick out in a client’s mind than chocolates or a tin of popcorn. It also showcases your firm’s values in addition to being a nice gift. It shows you care about doing good, that you’re driven by more than profit and, as such, it’s more likely to be remembered.
Client gifting isn’t just an obligatory way to mark the holidays; it’s a chance to start (or further) a deeper conversation, to connect beyond the expectations of work and share your firm’s values with your client — all of which can translate to a more lucrative ongoing relationship.
3. Find a cause you can commit to and get your client involved.
Many firms already support great causes but haven’t incorporated their philanthropic activity into their client communications. That’s a mistake – but an easily-fixable one.
If your firm already supports a specific cause but hasn’t done much to promote it yet, try framing a photo of the charity you support in a prominent place in your office, like the entryway. Additionally, you could make a page on your website (or write a post for your company blog) that explains what the charity is and why your firm believes supporting it is so valuable, or try incorporating a tidbit of news about the charity into your client newsletters or other methods of client communication.
If your firm doesn’t do much (or any) charitable giving, find a non-profit or a similar organization that aligns with your firm’s values and has a mission that your team is passionate about.
There are lots of important causes to donate to — so many that it can be hard to choose the right one. You can narrow it down by asking your employees if they have a social cause they find meaningful, or a non-profit they give to regularly.
It can also be helpful to choose based on where you and your clients are located. Picking a local charity, especially one that’s small in scale, or which operates independent of a larger national organization, may make your impact even more immediate and tangible.
Then, if you think they’re open to it, try (tactfully and gently) to get your clients involved. Some ways to do that include passing along invitations to events from the organization you’re supporting, or making a donation to the organization in the name of a particularly important client (this will seem less random if done during the holiday season).
Clients may not be able to devote the time and resources to support your cause, but just by making the effort, you’re showing them that they’re a part of your community and connecting with them in a way that goes above and beyond the everyday activities of doing business together.
4. Find a way of communicating that works for them (not just for you).
There are so many ways to communicate these days that the tsunami of digital messages can be overwhelming. An effective business leader has to find ways to shut out the noise in order to get things done.
Ask your client how and when they prefer to be contacted. Do they want to be reached by email? Text? Phone? Slack? Email for quick tasks, and phone for conversations that are deeper or more complex? Are there specific times of the day when they like (or don’t like) to be contacted? Maybe the late afternoons are best once they’ve accomplished the bulk of their daily duties and have more headspace to focus on what you need from them.
Also, don’t just ask once and never bring it up again. If it’s been a few months since your client told you they liked to be contacted by email in the late afternoons, but they haven’t been returning your messages lately, ask them again: “Hey, I wanted to check in on the timing of our communications to your team. Is emailing in the late afternoon still the best way to contact you, or do you prefer a different time or a different method?”
Showing that you’re aware of how busy they are and that you’re sensitive to their needs adds a layer of personalized service and care that your competitors may not offer.
A Little Effort Goes a Long Way
In practice, all of these efforts take time and resources to execute, but the more ways your firm can nourish its relationship with its clients, the more holistic and positive your clients’ experience will be. They’ll see you more favorably and you’ll be better equipped to sustain the unavoidable ups and downs of today’s rapidly-changing legal landscape.
Leeatt Rothschild is the founder and CEO of Packed with Purpose, a specialty gifting company with a social mission. Law firms, and other companies across the country, use Packed with Purpose to strengthen their bonds with clients.
Founded in 2016, Packed with Purpose was born out of Leeatt’s desire to create a social impact and her appreciation for the importance of gifting in fostering meaningful relationships.
For more information you can find Leeatt here: https://www.linkedin.com/in/leeatt-rothschild-b470a01/ or connect with Packed with Purpose on Twitter @PackedwPurpose.