Like any relationship, an attorney/client relationship can get into a rut. The excitement of the chase leads to elation when the new client is landed, followed by a period marked high attentiveness, fresh ideas and warm, fuzzy feelings on all sides.
Then things settle into a routine. The lawyer gets comfortable and his eye starts drifting, and the client starts feeling taken for granted. Dissatisfaction grows, and resentments build. Soon both parties start wondering if the grass is greener. Yet they muddle on, making efforts along the way to reconcile and jumpstart the relationship anew, believing it more expensive and time consuming to split up than to simply stick it out.
Every lawyer has been through this scenario and knows how it ends: Badly. But it need not, and should not, be this way. While it’s exciting to generate new business, it’s almost always easier and more profitable to maintain and expand existing client relationships than to develop new ones.
Just as romance is critical to a healthy relationship with a significant other, investing time, effort and resources is integral to maintaining and growing business relationships. Here are five ideas to spice things up:
Do Something Unexpected
Over time, many service providers devolve from solutions providers to order takers. Rather than thinking proactively and advising clients on what they need (i.e., why the client hired an expert in the first place), service providers often retreat to the “safe zone” of simply giving clients what they ask for. Sometimes budget or time constraints don’t always allow for big ideas and bold thinking, but an occasional extra effort and investment on behalf of the client can pay huge dividends.
Show Interest in Their Interests
How well do you know your client’s business? When is the last time you spent an afternoon at the client’s workplace, shadowed a sales team or researched their clients or customers? By demonstrating genuine interest in a client’s business, a lawyer can become a critical extension of their client’s team, rather than a line item on their budget.
Spend More Time Together
Do you have regular “date nights” scheduled with your clients? Whether it’s apathy, or a fear of hearing bad news, many lawyers avoid the status calls and meetings that are necessary to make sure the client relationship is on track. Only by regularly communicating with clients can issues be addressed and objectives be achieved.
Write a Letter
I bought my wife a bunch of nice Christmas gifts last year. I also, for the first time in far too long, wrote her a letter thanking her for being a wonderful wife, mother and friend. Guess what her favorite present was? It’s been said many times, but is acted on far too infrequently, that in this age of digital communication one of the best ways to help build relationships of trust, loyalty and respect with clients is to send an occasional handwritten note. This simple act takes very little time, but makes a big impact.
We often get stressed by the demands clients put on us, and resent them for it. But we forget that our client is facing the same pressures to perform from her superiors within the company. Rather than being resentful, we should be empathetic. By genuinely understanding the challenges our clients face, we can turn relationships into genuine partnerships, and tackle problems as a team.
Do your clients feel neglected? The good news is that it doesn’t much to get the excitement back. You must give something of yourself to get something back in return, so start romancing your clients.