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Three legal clients go out for dinner: avoiding missed expectations

The impact of missing client expectations can range from minor irritation to major catastrophe. Whether it’s matter pricing, outcomes, or something as essential as client service, the art of understanding and meeting client expectations has become more important than ever. However, for every explicit expectation, there are a host of implicit expectations that accompany it.

Here are three scenarios that illustrate common pitfalls, as well as strategies to avoid them.

Be proactive

When a person eating in a fine dining restaurant orders a steak, they expect the waiter to ask them how they’d like it done. It doesn’t matter if the chef believes every steak should be medium rare and tells the waiter never to ask. Failure to address this implicit expectation leads to disappointment and additional work.

If the client makes a request that leaves any question as to precisely what they expect, ask the follow-up question. This is especially important if it seems like the request can be easily addressed with a “standard” workflow or process. Asking a simple question can be the difference between an annoyed client and a happy client.

Understand their expectations

Similarly, a diner asking a waiter for a recommendation is often given the most popular dish on the menu. And that makes sense, right? The thing that most people like is what we recommend. But the devil is in the details.

For instance, let’s say a client asks for an alternative fee arrangement. The fee arrangement most of your clients prefer is a blended hourly rate, so you agree on that. When the client receives the invoice, they are upset. Through conversation, you discover a flat fee arrangement would have better served them. Here a poor experience could have been avoided by making an effort to dig into the client request upfront and tailor the offering.

Invest in technology

Finally, we come to the most deceptive scenario – the diner who orders “just a salad.” On its face, a request like this seems straightforward. The implicit expectation is that the requester wants to minimize cost.

For legal clients, these are the “run-of-the-mill” matters they expect to come in at a lower and lower cost.  The rise of alternative legal service providers and rapid advancements in legal technology contribute significantly to this expectation. But law firms still relying on the standard billable hour or who lack the latest legal tech may end up surprised with unhappy clients demanding to know why these matters cost so much.

The fix here is not so simple. Strategic technology investments can help you deliver these services at a lower cost without sacrificing profitability. Clients have come to perceive this expectation as table stakes and often neglect to express it upfront.

It’s simple: ask questions

In purely economic terms, each of these three types of clients gets what they want – a legal service rendered. But are they likely to bring more business to the firm? Are they likely to recommend the firm? The answer to both is a resounding “no.”

As competition increases, and clients have more options than ever before, law firms that can uncover, address, and exceed these implicit expectations will succeed. Favorable outcomes and client service are no longer enough. Lawyers must engage, ask the important questions, and meet expectations they never knew their clients had.

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