In early February, we published an article entitled, The Role of Trustworthiness in Client and Business Development. At that time, the COVID-19 epidemic was not fully blown. While companies, universities, associations, health care providers and law firms were all just beginning to turn their attention to potential crisis management scenarios, we are now in the throes of trying to manage and deal with this pandemic which is certain to have serious impacts on the economy and business, to say nothing of social and health implications.
In our prior article, we described the Trust Equation (as depicted in The Trusted Advisor by David H. Maister, Charles H. Green and Robert M. Galford) and the characteristics of trustworthiness and steps to take to earn it and nurture trust. Three of the factors: Credibility, Reliability and Intimacy include several examples of ways to improve these aspects of trustworthiness. Given the heightened anxiety produced by the current crisis, we think it important to revisit several aspects of the Trust Equation to help lawyers and their firms ease the tensions clients likely are experiencing right now and to nurture deeper relationships. We have included those elements we think most relevant for clients during a time of extreme disruption and uncertainty.
- Serve as a resource. Share any best practices or approaches you have learned that your firm or other clients are taking to address COVD-19 in their organizations. Provide alerts prepared by your Labor & Employment lawyers on how to address workplace issues and concerns and offer to put clients in touch with both your employment attorneys and your HR and talent professionals.
- Problem-solve together. Regularly anticipate client needs and demonstrate that you are honest and believable. Offer suggestions, contacts and information that can help them.
- Convery certainty and consistency. In times of disruption and when things seem to be out of one’s control, clients will be reassured if you consistently deliver what they want and need even before they need it. Be on time for meetings and phone calls and don’t make clients chase you for updates or follow-up. Offer weekly updates, perhaps by video call.
- Be responsiveness, available and accessible. Check in with clients more frequently than you might normally and return their phone calls and emails as soon as is feasible. If your firm has restricted your travel (and in some cases may be asking you to work remotely,) you may find you actually have more time available for touches with clients and co-workers to keep communication flowing.
- Think ahead and anticipate. Anticipate concerns clients likely have about the effects of the pandemic, economy and market on their business, their deals, their ongoing litigation. Prepare for meetings and calls in advance and send agendas and materials to clients a day or two ahead.
- Communicate via video. With restrictions on travel and in-person meetings, it will be more difficult to gain the advantages that are derived from face-to-face interactions. Find out what your firm allows and supports in terms of video chats via Skype, Facetime, etc. as well as online meeting platforms such as WebEx, GoTo Meeting and Zoom. Communicating via video is more effective than doing so strictly by email and phone, although you should also use the phone more than you normally would also as it can be reassuring to hear your voice. Staying connected on many levels will be important, and human contact is necessary to do this.
- Give clients a safe space to express their concerns. This is a time when you should reach out to clients and listen, not just to words, but to their feelings. Tune in to their moods, emotions and anxiety and acknowledge them. Be willing to discuss their concerns about COVD-19 and how it is impacting their lives, their families, their careers. Even if you too are feeling nervous and uncertain, be their calm in the storm.
- Make client feel loved, valued and prioritized. Convey you are constantly thinking about them; make them feel they are your “only client.” Stay in close touch more regularly than you normally would.
- Make their lives easier. Offer clients help. For the second year in a row, according to BTI Consulting, in-house departments got smaller. They are making do with less but have to do far more. Seek out ways to ease their loads. Augment their teams with your own lawyers, paralegals and other project staff. Offer CLEs and other updates to them and their teams via WebEx.
- Have their back. At all times, but particularly in times of turmoil and uncertainty, clients may be worried about the health of their business, whether they may have to lay off employees, whether they may get laid off or whether they or their loved ones will get sick. This is a critical time for clients to know that you are there for them, as a sounding board, a friend and as someone who will help them in any way you can.
RainMaking Oasis provides consulting, training and coaching services to law firms and lawyers in the areas of business development and growth strategy, innovation, client retention and expansion, succession planning and leadership and personal effectiveness skills. Please contact Susan Duncan at firstname.lastname@example.org.