One New Year's Resolution to Keep: Focus on Value for Your Clients

By: Hans Muessig

Word Count: 936 words
Time to Read: 3-4 minutes

The last two years have been tough for the legal profession! Business is down as clients and customers have cut back on spending of all kinds. As a result there have been wide-spread lay-offs in law firms and across the entire economy.

While many people are seeing “green shoots” of recovery and we probably have dodged a second “Great Depression” things won’t be the same going forward. Leaner staffing – remember those lay-offs – will mean challenges supporting the expectations and demands of clients going forward. And those clients have changed. In the business-to-business arena (as in the consumer arena) clients have learned how to do with less and how to focus their expenditures to realize greater value.

Indeed, “value” is quickly becoming the critical factor in whether a law firm retains its clients and sees any increase in revenue in the future.

What do I mean by “value”? Do the services and support you offer your clients provide them with a competitive advantage, improve their bottom line, or allow them to differentiate themselves from the competition? Are you knowledgeable about their business and its challenges, do you actively contribute to their strategic planning, are you focused on improving their business, are you creative and responsive?

Clients will increasingly demand that you demonstrate that you are bringing value to the relationship. A good example of this is the “Value Challenge” from the Association of Corporate Counsel – the attorneys inside corporations. ACC’s program – subtitled “Meet. Talk. Act.” -- encourages corporate counsels to begin a significant dialogue with their outside counsel to improve the value and reduce the costs of the services provided. It has the potential to reshape the relationships between corporations and their outside legal counsel. Every business is looking for greater effectiveness in their business-to-business relationships.

So here is the resolution I hope you will keep: Do something significant and meaningful to proactively secure and improve your key client relationships and increase the value you offer them.

Remember you have expertise and services your clients can benefit from. If you are seeing some business return then you are providing value your clients appreciate. But given the changes of the past two years, your clients’ expectations likely have changed and you have yet to see their business return.

It is time to rebuild and reshape your relationships focused on understanding and meeting your clients’ expectations.

How? One of the most effective ways to strengthen your relationships is through a true dialog focused on the expectations, requirements, and capabilities you both have. This dialog should be based on an openness to change the way you’ve done things in order to benefit of both of you. By initiating this conversation your clients will be impressed by your commitment to them and your initiative to provide them with significant value.

These dialogs can be difficult (and potentially dangerous) if not done carefully. Here is where Wolf Management can help. In less than a day the structure of a Shared Expectations workshop will enable you and your client to reset your relationship by taking the time to:

  • discuss your expectations of one another; identify where those expectations are being met or not;
  • recognize a common set of priorities; and,
  • act on those priorities by collaboratively developing a concrete plan to add effectiveness and value to the relationship and move forward.
An experienced, neutral facilitator guides you through the structured process and takes the notes.

The immediate outcome from the workshop is a stronger, more open, collaborative relationship. The facilitator’s notes – your priorities and action plan – from the day become the “roadmap” for how you and your client will add and measure value. As you both work the action plan you will be able to take more control of the relationship – with the client’s concurrence – and effectively manage client perceptions. You will be able to consistently demonstrate your commitment to their business, the value you’ve added, and ensure their satisfaction. And with more effective strategic planning (business development) you will confirm your role as a trusted advisor and build a solid book of future business.

Said one client: “this is the single most powerful tool you offer to change the direction of a relationship.”

The lasting benefits of a Shared Expectations workshop are substantial. What is in it for you:

  • Strengthened client relationships achieved because you know what the client expects and how to meet their expectations;
  • Clients will perceive you as focused and responsive to their business and therefore are more satisfied in the value you provide.
  • Your business development work will be more productive.
  • Finally, your client will get exactly what they want: a competent and responsive advisor who clearly understands their business goals and priorities and adds value by proactively supporting those goals and priorities.
I’ve facilitated several hundred of these sessions and I continue to be amazed (and pleased) at how effective they are! The impacts are lasting. So take the next step: Keep this New Year’s Resolution. Contact us with questions or to discuss one or more potential sessions with your clients. Follow these links to learn more about Shared Expectations and to read an earlier article on Transforming Relationships; Exceeding Client Expectations.

This is the second in a regular column devoted to the challenges of managing client relationships and how a collaborative approach can change the game and lead to greater success and client satisfaction. We’re open to questions and will answer them in future columns. You can email Hans Muessig.

Feel free to forward this to colleagues.

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