A Survival Guide for Legal Practice Managers

A Survival Guide for Legal Practice Managers

Client Engagement vs Client Expectations

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

By David King, Director, Vue Consulting


Following my recent presentation on the relationship between client engagement and profit for ALPMA in Victoria, I thought I would expand upon one of the topics we only had time to briefly touch upon in that presentation – the management of client expectations.

Bill Gates said that “Expectations are a form of first-class truth: If people believe it, it’s true”. The expectations a client comes to believe at the start of a legal matter will have far reaching consequences for the level of engagement that client develops with their lawyer or legal firm.

Once a client’s expectations are set, changing them through the course of a legal proceeding or relationship becomes very difficult – those expectations can often represent the very reason the client decided to proceed and changes in those expectations can cause severe Buyer’s Remorse.  NB – The same thing applies to your staff as well. The expectations a staff member brings to their first day on the job will impact their entire working relationship and employee engagement!

Clients are not blank slates!

A problem exists in fields like law (or finance or engineering) where the client’s background knowledge of the law can mean the client comes with preconceived ideas – already formed expectations. Inexperienced clients learn from hearsay from friends or assume TV representations of the legal community are accurate. Experienced clients make assumptions – they assume you will do things as they have seen it done before.

In either case, if these expectations are not resolved to match the true representation of what you can, can’t, will and won’t do during a relationship or proceedings, then your efforts to create more engaged clients may be compromised.

Client Engagement = Client Expectations

 This is because an engaged client is someone whose expectations are being met, or even exceeded. Engaged clients have become comfortable with your way of doing business because it is occurring as they both want it to and thought it would. As a result, they are becoming tied into your brand, you or your way of doing things. This is why these engaged clients keep coming back, become less concerned about price, seek a wider range of services from you and refer their colleagues to you.
It is therefore critical that all clients – new or existing – have their expectations clarified, discussed and – if required – managed very early in a relationship or matter. As marketing guru Roy Williams wrote “The first step in exceeding your customer’s expectations is to know those expectations.” So let’s consider a few tips to better know, understand and manage client expectations to give you the best chance to create more engaged clients.

Five tips to manage client expectations


1. Stop making assumptions

 While clients have a core of similar expectations, every client is different and has different experiences shaping their expectations.


2. Put it in writing

 Humans are visual creatures. Give clients something in writing which they can discuss with you. Terms of Engagement are great, but they tend to come after the fact. How about a one pager covering key elements of a legal matter, presented as a nice graphical document to encourage some discussion with the client about their expectations? 


3. Don’t let clients be passive

Don’t present your expectations and ask the client if that’s acceptable. A client who is passive and not speaking isn’t necessarily agreeing. Ask the client questions and be certain the client has given you their considered response. Do you really understand this client’s genuine expectations or are they just being polite and nodding?


4. Document key expectations

After your client discussion, send the client a quick email summarising your understanding of critical expectations (or summarise it at the start of an Engagement letter). Give the client time to reflect on their own words and be sure they communicated clearly to you. You will be surprised how many times a client comes back and says “Well, actually, I thought…”.


5. Check-in periodically

Don’t wait till the end of a matter to debrief. If you are off course, you need to know early. Stop every now and then to reflect on how things are going with the client. See if any course corrections are needed. Client expectations can sometimes change during a matter – you need to stay up to date.


Let’s sum up with a thought from one of the greatest client experience operators in history – Walt Disney:

“Do what you do so well that they will want to see it again and bring their friends.”

Now that’s client engagement. 


Editor's Note:

Members interested in learning more about this subject can view a recent ALPMA lunchtime presentation by David in Seminars On Demand, the member-only area of the ALPMA website.  Note: Members need to be logged in to view this content.  Eligible non-members can get a Free Guest Pass to explore this area for 30 days.


About Our Guest Blogger

David KingDavid King is the Managing Director of Vue Consulting, a specialist training firm for Australian professionals and executives. 

Vue Consulting is focused on helping you, your team and your business to learn practical, proven strategies which better commercialise your professional, technical or corporate skills.

Vue Consulting provides training experiences in critical areas of lead generation, building client trust, boosting productivity and improving client retention.


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