CLIENT RELATIONSHIPS took their rightful place in the limelight at the World Masters of Law Firm Management conference last week.
Director and managing partner of McKinsey & Company’s Australian and New Zealand practices said it was important to build exceptional client relationships and not settle for average. In order to achieve this it was important that the practice be managed as a profession, not a business. “This allows you to build relationships over the long term that are truly based on trust,” he said.
Independence was crucial to that trust: “The moment a client believes you are no longer independent, you are lost”. Lewis said the ‘trust-based adviser’ was the pinnacle of all relationships, and was achieved at the point where the line between client and friendship begins to blur. But to move from needs-based to relationship-based to trust-based relationships took time and dedication.
He said it was essential to know which clients you want to build a relationship with, be proactive and ahead of the client’s agenda, and ‘add value’ for the client. It was also important to listen more than you think you should — clients often ‘speak between the lines’ — and remember that it is all about the client.
He added that lawyers should be honest; deliver a little bit extra; and sweat the little things — the difference between a Christmas card with an indecipherable name at the bottom and a personal letter of congratulations after a promotion or successful transaction was phenomenal. It was the personal touches that let the client know the relationship was important.
Lewis advised his audience to “be wary of those around you who are too busy to build relationships well”. He also outlined a strategy used by McKinsey & Company called the two-four-eight rule. “We expect our partners to be actively working on two engagements, negotiating four engagements and having eight discussions,” he said. That is monitored via weekly conference calls with the partners.
Canadian lawyer, author and management consultant, Gerry Riskin, focused on the importance of identifying your top clients and conducting ‘client care’ visits. These were not to be confused with selling visits, he said, and if a client raised a selling opportunity it was up to the lawyer to be disciplined and defer discussion to another time.
A client care visit should focus on trying to determine what the client’s unmet and latent needs were. Again, it was imperative to be proactive and determine what the client needed from the firm before the client did.