The Problem With Being "Friendly" (Part 2)

Encouraging potential clients to make that all-important first-time contact seems to be a common problem for law firms.

The Solicitors Regulation Authority says “81 percent of the public find the justice system intimidating” (Consumers of legal services – levels of unmet legal need).

Many small businesses live in fear of a tax investigation, and yet aren't sure who's side their accountant is on. There are similar mixed feelings.

One answer that – on the face of it – makes sense is to tell these people that you are friendly.

But it could backfire!

LexisNexis investigated the changing client expectations (The Age of the Client, Bellwether Report). “Clients don’t tend to expect a high degree of rapport when they enter into the relationship. As one client put it: 'Lawyers are not people people.'”

So if you promise friendliness and then fail to provide it (in their terms), clients will feel let down.

People can get into a high state of nervousness because of their unfamiliar needs. They are likely to feel wary of costs, fairness, stress, etc.

In this state they put only a toe in the water.

And that toe can quickly be retracted if a small incident upsets them within the first few encounters with a law firm.

Nervous clients only risk a toe in the water

The result will be enquiries that do not proceed and go elsewhere.
Or go to a competitor next time they need help.

The Bellwether Report shows both of these are high priority concerns for firms at 75% (attracting new clients) and 57% (retaining clients).

What to do?

1. Maybe it's better to under-promise and over-deliver?

One of America's best-remembered advertising campaigns came from Avis Rent-a-Car who were battling industry leaders Hertz: “We're number two – so we try harder!”. This was a break-through in marketing - it got called 'underdog advertising'. Richard Branson used it against British Airways very effectively.
So rather than claiming to be friendly like everyone else, stand out with a (very) different claim.

2. Another approach might be to replace the word.

Use a semantically similar word or phrase like 'welcoming', 'approachable', 'team-spirited' and so on. People pick up on adjectives, while focussing more on nouns and verbs. So putting the adjective in the middle of the sentence makes it more digestible than at either end of the sentence.

And longer phrases also slip into readers' minds easily. They make a more emotional impact than an intellectual one. So 'We are an easy-to-work-with team who take your issue very seriously' avoids the “me-to" problem while conveying the 'nice people' message and being also being usefully Google-friendly.

3. Or you could prioritise care rather than friendliness.

Ensure everyone projects the most caring approach possible. Tune up key points all along your Client-Attracting Pathway. Model this approach: avoid using training or supervision to do this, employ small nudges delivered by standardised paperwork: easier, cheaper and more effective.

My article “How Every Stepping Stone Helps Your Firm Gain More Clients” explains this.

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