A few years ago I was sitting across from a new client who was 21 years old. When we talked about the importance of keeping each other updated, she asked that I text or email her. She told me she didn’t have a home phone and rarely checked her cell phone voice mail. Because she was a student, her address changed often and snail mail was a hassle to keep track of.
At the time I didn’t text much and found it cumbersome to type messages with my big fingers on the small digital display of my smartphone keyboard. After our appointment I immediately downloaded a program to my desktop that allowed me to easily send and receive text messages and attachments from my office computer. The client loved the fact that I had listened to her request and as things turned out, we both benefited from the simple back and forth text updates. This experience really opened my eyes to appreciate the importance of always keeping an open mind and always placing the client’s best interest before my own.
Today I use MightyText to stay in touch via text with clients from my desktop.
It’s All About The Client
In his book, What’s the Future of Business: Changing the Way Businesses Create Experiences, digital analyst, author, and prominent thought leader, Brian Solis, explains that in today’s digital world, connecting with clients and creating an exemplary client experience is key to long term success. Consumer expectations and attention spans have changed. Listening to clients and communicating and engaging in the manner clients prefer—as opposed to how you want to do things—will build trust, rapport, and better relationships.
While you may think that your client enjoys receiving your expensive and engraved stationary, you’re probably wrong. Do they look forward to your FedEx package with hundreds or thousands of pages of documents? Not really. Truth be told, you’re probably the only one who gets excited about preparing, sending, and billing for the effort. When asked, most clients will tell you they would rather have you update them in a more modern way and no, I’m not talking about the fax machine.
The Way Humans Communicate is Constantly Changing
In the very beginning, human beings started communicating by sharing sounds, and then primitive language. Petroglyphs—drawings on rock walls—began to appear during the Neolithic and late Upper Paleolithic boundary about 10,000 to 40,000 years ago.
Around 1439, Gutenberg was the first European to use movable type printing and the way humans communicated with each other continued to evolve, from the printing press to Pony Express, telegraph, US Post Office, telephone, to today’s digital communication via the Internet. Because of the ease and ability to communicate and exchange information, civilizations and societies have been forever changed. Now that digital and social media is here to stay, how you communicate with others, as a lawyer, must change too.
Change is Good
Today, most clients would prefer hearing from you online and reviewing documents via searchable and shareable PDFs rather than getting a large package delivered to their office. Busy clients would rather receive a communication or update that they can save or drag to a folder to read later rather than storing or lugging around a big box of documents to and from the office.
When was the last time you asked a client how they would like you to communicate with you?
I have clients that primarily communicate with me via private direct message (DM) on Twitter. We are each limited to 140 characters but this allows for short and quick back and forth communications. Links and pictures can be easily included. Other clients prefer private messaging on Facebook, LinkedIn, or Google Plus.
With Google Plus, I use a private circle—and sometimes a private community circle—set up for each client or group of clients, lawyers, and experts. This allows all of us to exchange a variety of information (messages, photos, videos, exhibits) and collaborate in a very efficient manner. If you’re using Google Plus to do this, make sure to disable comments and reshares when posting.
Using Video Will Help You Connect Faster and Better!
Another way I use technology to communicate in a different and more effective way is to share short videos via Google Glass, Spreecast, my smartphone, or a new service called Vsnap. Rather than tell a client about an incoming motion, I’ll take a couple of pictures or shoot a short video of the documents, with narration, and send it over for the client’s review and comment. Vsnap is an easy way to share updates and respond to incoming emails via video. I also think the video experience makes things much more personal than sending an email or facsimile. I even use Vsnap to thank clients for contacting our firm and include links to pre-written web pages or blog posts offering next step suggestions and solutions.
While I always enjoy and prefer face-to-face meetings with new and existing clients, sometimes for convenience purposes (maybe the client resides in another city), I use a private Spreecast or Google Hangout to connect via live video. Almost without exception, the visual aspect of video allows me to build rapport quickly. Clients can ask questions and show me pictures or injuries on their bodies or documents they have questions about. They also seem to appreciate that I’m using technology to help save them travel time and make their day just a bit easier.
Private Client Portals and Other Time Saving Tips
Our 24/7 private client portal is also a very popular tool that clients like to use to communicate and exchange documents with our firm. The Facebook type of platform allows me to send private emails, messages, and exchange information when it’s convenient. Clients can also review their litigation calendar and check upcoming hearing and trial dates. Our phone rings less and clients are more satisfied and informed, in real time, than ever before.
Another time-saving technology I use that helps further the communication process is creating pages on our website that contain detailed answers for each of the 50 or so frequently asked questions. When I’m asked one of these questions on social, in an email, or over the phone, I can immediately share the link to the pre-written answer explaining the detailed solution.
While the potential client is at my webpage getting answers to their questions, I sometimes share a related and useful video or podcast which is already embedded on the page. The visitor will also find various links and icons to additional solutions (free reports, more videos, SlideShares…) and invitations to stay connected on social and via my firm email newsletter. Using this approach allows me to communicate quickly and consistently on the digital platforms while, at the same time, provide massive value to the recipient of the information.
Communicating On Social Media Creates Additional Benefits
One of the major benefits of communicating with clients on the social platforms is the additional opportunity to build even stronger and more personal relationships. This naturally flows from interacting on the platform itself.
Clients who stay in touch with me by DM on Twitter inevitably also end up following me. I follow them right back. They see, comment, and retweet my tweets about the law, sports, social media, and technology. When appropriate, I share their tweets. During this digital dance, often times we discover common interests (Rotary, Arizona football, or maybe motocross racing) or that we have similar passions for various causes like eradicating polio in the world. This interaction results in a stronger relationship. New opportunities to help each other often emerge. Old fashion snail mail just doesn’t allow for this level of interaction, engagement, and relationship possibilities. Most of the other leading social media platforms easily allow for the same opportunities to build relationships.
From a practice administration standpoint, using these tools helps you connect and exchange information almost instantly and with little or no costs. From a confidentiality or privacy standpoint, I believe these methods of communication are more secure than a letter, fax, or FedEx package sent the traditional way. Think about it for a minute—anyone along the distribution channel of traditional mail can take, open and read your letter. The digital private messaging tools of the platforms I mentioned in this article are more secure because usernames and passwords are required. These additional security levels are simply not in play with mail and fax.
Do I still use snail mail and the telephone? Of course. But I’ve noticed over the past five years that about 80 percent of my communications with clients and others is now taking place on the digital platforms. It’s made my life more efficient and my connections more useful and meaningful. Even more important, it’s more convenient for my clients, and that’s what good service is all about.
The important takeaway from this post is: how you communicate with a client is all about them and not you. The next time you meet with a new client, ask how they would prefer to communicate. Just like good voir dire, stop talking after asking the question and really listen to what your new client has to say. Avoid manipulating the client’s response and pay attention to their needs and desires.
Keeping the client happy and using technology to take the extra steps to communicate in their preferred manner will help create an exemplary client experience. Add to this your outstanding legal services and excellent people skills, and I think you’ll have a client for life.