This is the next post in my series on common marketing mistakes made by law firms. My last article discussed how attorneys can immediately get clients while building up a bank of owned content. It’s important that firms think long-term and focus on putting their dollars into assets which they will own. The points I made in my last article go to how attorneys can “bridge the gap” while they are waiting for those owned assets to start paying off. In this post I’ll discuss one of the biggest mistakes which I commonly see – the failure of firms to recognize the importance of repeat business. If you want to be successful then this is a mistake you cannot afford to make.
I’ve previously discussed why referrals are an attorneys’ most important source of business. Repeat clients are a close second for reasons I’ll explain in a moment. It’s important to understand that there are many practice areas in which repeat clients are common. For example:
- Family law attorneys can regularly deal with the same clients for years in regards to ongoing child custody disputes and post-divorce issues
- Criminal law practitioners often represent the same people multiple times……..for obvious reasons
- A probate attorney may prepare an estate plan for someone and then be re-retained when that same person is about to inherit something from a recently deceased relative
- Many people aren’t financially responsible and, as a result, may declare bankruptcy more than once. They may use the same lawyer for both bankruptcies
These are just a few examples how much work you can get out of people coming back to you with new problems. I’ve mentioned on this blog before that I started my practice, in my living room, in August of ’06 and that in 2010 my firm brought in more than $1,000,000 in revenue. Part of that 2010 revenue was from people I represented, from 06-09, who came back to my firm with new issues. When you see firms growing rapidly it’s important to understand that repeat business is one of the reasons why.
The reason why I say that repeat customers are your second most important source of business is simple – it is incredibly inefficient to solely rely on new customers. There are several reasons for this. First, if you have previously represented someone then you will already have a repore with them and knowledge of their personal circumstances. This will result in you putting less time into the case in order to meet that person’s needs. Second, you will often not waste time going through initial consultations with such clients. In many instances they simply call you, tell you that they need assistance, and you will email them a fee agreement and online invoice for them to pay. Third, since they will be familiar with your billing practices you’re far less likely to spend time chasing the client around for money or explaining your bill. In other words, you will put less time into representing a repeat client then you will someone who you are assisting for the first time. This reduces your administrative time and makes repeat clients more profitable. If, however, you are solely relying on new business then will not have any of this efficiency in your practice and your profit margins are going to be much, much, much, much less than they would otherwise. A final point is that there will be times when you are retained by a repeat customer when new business is actually slow. In other words, repeat clients often help to cover the slow times that are felt by firms who rely solely on new business.
If you feel like you’re struggling to get your firm out of first gear then honestly ask yourself how much repeat business you receive. If the answer is “not much” then (and I know you don’t want to hear this) but the reason for the lack of such business is not your employees, other lawyers, or something else. The fault belongs to the person you see in the mirror. The bottom line is that if you don’t give clients a “knock their socks off” customer service experience then they’re not going to come back to you. This means that if you are not getting repeat business then you need to look at your customer service policies. These include the speed at which you return phone calls, the steps you take to keep your client “in the loop,” and the expediency with which you handle the matter. Cleaning up those policies will help you to a) get more referrals and b) start building repeat business. That, in turn, will start building your bank account. In order to not rehash some of my previous articles, I’ll give you the following suggestions on how to make your firm’s experience something that a client would retain again again:
If you’ve had your practice for any length of time then you should be receiving referrals and repeat business. The amount of this type of business should be increasing every year. If you’re not seeing this increase then that’s a much larger problem for your firm than the means by which you are marketing for new clients. Not focusing on keeping clients happy, and turning them into repeat customers, is the greatest law firm marketing error in my opinion.
Why do you feel that so many attorneys don’t focus on client satisfaction and, in turn, repeat business? Please chime in through the comment form below.