Breakdowns in communication with clients--even small ones--can become a significant impediment to our ability to not only represent our clients, but also run our practice efficiently. Breakdowns can lead to ball-dropping, non-responsiveness, mix-ups, and ultimately frustrated clients and employees.
If you're experiencing breakdowns, rather than immediately turning your attention to what your clients may or may not be doing, take a close look first at the way YOU are communicating. Look at the substance and style of your communication from the perspective of the recipient and evaluate whether YOU are doing everything you can to address the shortcomings.
If you want to be a better communicator, ask these 4 simple questions:
1. Did the person have enough of the right information to take action?
In other words, are you as the communicator providing them with the who, what, where, why and when that they need to take the action that you want them to take? Are you explaining to them what you need, providing examples, due dates, and the preferred format?
Breakdowns of this kind often arise when we're collecting information from clients, like during discovery. If we don't do a good job up front of giving them the information they need to gather documents, respond to our questions, or collect information, then we can expect what they give us to be disorganized and incomplete.
If you need something from them, make the extra effort to give them all the information they need to do it successfully.
2. Was the communication clear enough for them to understand?
Maybe you are giving your client all the right information . . . but are you being CLEAR enough? Are you using words and terminology that your client can understand? Are you burying the lead in a paragraph of other information, or is it crystal clear what you're asking for? When writing emails, check out your headers and your call to action–are these elements clear enough to make them pay attention in the first place?
3. Was the communication delivered in the right way at the right time?
Did you use the right communication medium and did you deliver the communication far enough in advance for them to act on it? Sometimes we choose to use a method of communication that's ideal for US, but that’s not ideal for our clients. If we know our clients don't use email or are bombarded by email, consider picking up the phone. Think about the using the medium that's most likely to get you a response.
Also–and this is a big one–did we give our client enough time to take the action we're asking them to take, or did we fail to plan ahead (click HERE for more on the importance of planning).
4. Was the person properly motivated to respond?
The main question here is: did we provide enough information to motivate the recipient to take the action we want them to take? A lot of times we’re firing off emails asking for things that we need from clients, but we’re not taking the time to explain what’s in it for THEM and WHY they should respond.
Here's the truth: we all prioritize our responses based on what’s in it for US–so if we provide the proper motivation then the level of responsiveness will go up.
For example, explaining to your client not only that you need these documents, but that giving you these documents on time and in a certain format will help you help them solve their problem faster. Motivate them to respond by making an effort to explain WHY.
Charles Haanel pointed out the direct link between our intentions and our ability to see opportunities when he said that “The intention governs the attention.”
In other words, what we intend is at the root of our actions. If our intentions are clear, then our mind automatically shifts its focus toward those intentions and the actions we must take to achieve them.
Think about this simple example: Let's say you've been walking down a city street for 30 minutes and eventually start to feel hungry. Your brain automatically shifts to a single intention: must find food, now! When that happens, it's like putting a lens over all of the information you process that filters out anything that doesn't involve your current intention. You may have passed 20 restaurants in the last 30 minutes and not noticed any of them, but now that your intention to find food is clear, your attention shifts to looking for restaurants--and you start to notice them all around you.
This connection between our intention and attention applies to our professional development, too.
If you're clear on your intentions and Why you want to make changes or improvements, then that allows you to clearly see opportunities that you may not have noticed before--and will lead you directly to the ability to define and set goals with precision and specificity. And with precise and well-defined goals that align with your “Why,” you're able to direct your attention and energy toward their achievement.
For example, it's not good enough to say that you want to not work as much, have more free time, or be a better lawyer. You have to get specific about your intention and the reason why it's important:
Getting clear on your intention will shift your attention toward that end--like achieving an hours goal, being more efficient, learning a new skill--and reveal opportunities that were there all along but that you hadn't clearly defined before. You'll see, for example, ways to bill more time, cut out inefficiencies, and take advantage of opportunities to practice speaking in public.
Here's the takeaway: When you align your thoughts with something you desire, the motivation and actions needed to achieve the goal reveal themselves. If you want to improve your practice, it starts with getting specific about your intentions. That will allow you to view opportunities with a heightened level of clarity, which will then allow you to take action with confidence and purpose.
If you're looking for ways to improve your relationship with your clients and the overall client service your firm provides, consider the benefits of creating a client video database.
We know that people are turning more and more to videos (as opposed to written materials) to get their information. One way to capitalize on this trend is to prepare short, informative videos that the firm’s clients can use to learn information about the firm, become educated on aspects of their case or matter, or learn how to perform the actions you need them to perform to help their case.
In other words: Instead of giving them directions in real time, or providing them with a written handout, consider whether it makes sense to communicate the same information through a series of videos or through a video database.
There are LOTS of opportunities to educate clients using videos:
Some firms have video databases that contain over 100 videos that their clients have access to on a whole range of topics. When an issue comes up on a call or in person, the firm sends the client a short video that provides some background information to explain and help the client better understand the issue.
Note that these videos generally are short–somewhere in the range of 3-5 minutes. If you have a complicated issue or complex directions, consider breaking it up into several parts. Also note that you can shoot a great video on an iPhone or a digital camera--there’s absolutely no need to go high-tech, and your videos can be low budget.
You can also use screen-sharing and recording software like Snaggit to capture and record videos on your computer or laptop. So if you want, for example, to walk your client through filling out a form or explaining an online resource to them, Snaggit is a great way to accomplish it.
Here's the Takeaway: Videos like this can be a great resource for clients and a supplement to verbal or other written information you provide them. Building a solid client video library is an excellent way to keep pace with the way the firm’s clients are processing information.
Interruptions from staff and other team members can break up the flow of your work day and seriously interfere with your ability to get your most important work done.
Experts have estimated that we can spend upwards of 40% of our day dealing with--and getting back on track after--unwanted interruptions.
Most law firm settings do require a certain amount of interruption to move at the speed of your clients and their matters--but that doesn't mean you can't set up some simple rules to reduce at least some of the burden that interruptions are causing you.
If you feel like your office is a revolving door, here are a few ways to address it:
1. Educate your staff on the purpose of establishing new communication routines.
Reducing interruptions starts with educating your team on why you're establishing new communication rules. Make it clear that the goal is to help the office run smoothly by bucketing certain questions and communications together and creating more uninterrupted time for everyone to concentrate on individual work.
2. Create rules and define an "emergency".
Identify rules your team can follow when it comes to communicating with one another. For example, if you want the hours between 10:00am-11:30am and 1:30pm-3:00pm to be uninterrupted work time, create a rule that no one interrupts you unless X, Y, or Z happens. Define what's not important enough for you to be interrupted , and also define circumstances where you do want them to communicate with you immediately--for example, client calls, potential new matters, or emergencies (and define what counts as an emergency).
3. Establish times for questions.
If you're going to have periods with no interruptions, then also establish well-defined periods for questions and work-related discussions. Some attorneys who supervise others hold open "office hours" at specific times throughout the day, others will ask that questions are held until the top of the hour. Experiment to see what works best for you and your team.
4. Define what kinds of issues are good for weekly meetings.
Some questions don't even warrant discussion on a daily basis, and are better suited for weekly meetings with the whole team present. So also make it a point to define the kinds of questions and issues that are better covered at your next staff meeting. For example, breakdowns in processes and firm systems, or matters that relate to the entire office, for example.
5. Work the system.
It will take some time to get the rules in place and train your staff, and you will need to be vigilant about following the system you've set up. But the benefits that are on the other side of working the system are well worth the effort.