What makes a great client relationship? Is it possible to follow a prescribed list of actions to help build a strong bond with a partner, whether it be business or otherwise? We’d say yes. Being in business for 20+ years, we’ve had plenty of great client relationships. We’ve learned over that time that there is a short list of things guaranteed to help establish a strong relationship with a client:

Communicate clearly

Clear communication involves more than simply listening and responding. It means focusing every bit of your attention on what the person is conveying to you. That starts with taking the word “I” out of your conversational vocabulary. Work to keep the conversation focused on what the person is sharing, rather than about how you had a similar experience. Pro tip: It’s not about you.

As this Forbes article concludes, “When we listen empathically we’re focusing our attention on the person who’s talking; we’re focused on climbing inside their head and seeing the world as they see it. When we do that, not only do we understand this person much more but their trust in us only grows.”

We had a misstep with a new website redesign client who asked—in writing—to change the primary color in a homepage design to a bright pink. I was excited that this women-led law firm wanted to deviate from ‘law firm blue’ with a bold, modern color, uncommon on law firm sites. Whelp… after excitedly showing them the page design, they laughed because they said it was a joke.

I reread the email looking for clues that would have communicated this amusing encounter. No sarcastic font. No April Fool’s Day date. I guess they just thought it would be obvious, but regardless, our communications failed that day. I am still looking for a law firm ready for pink, but it’s not about me!

Understand your client’s motives

Nothing is more frustrating than a sales or service person who thinks they know what you want and tells you as much without actually asking any questions about what you need. Part of good communication is taking in what the other person is telling you and working to understand what he or she is trying to achieve.

What is this person’s underlying motive? Does he need a new website, or does he actually need a content management system that is easy for any essential user to manage? Or, more personally, does he maybe need a “win” with his boss that you could help him achieve? Whatever is driving the conversation, tune into—through thoughtful questioning—what is actually being sought.

One thing I learned when working inside the marketing departments of Ballard Spahr and Dechert is that when it comes to marketing technology, lawyers don’t always know exactly how to ask for what they want—whether it’s websites, SEO, CRM, social media marketing, or blogs. They are busy servicing their own clients, so they don’t necessarily have the bandwidth to know how the sausage is made, so to speak.

Lawyers would call asking “how to do” certain things, but I would shift the question to “what are they are trying to accomplish?” I learned a critical lesson and use this tactic now when engaging with LISI clients: the clients’ motives are not immediately evident, but if you work to understand what’s driving the question, you can uncover what’s really going on.

Exceed expectations at all times

“Exceeding expectations is where satisfaction ends, and loyalty begins.”

Ron Kaufman
Author and motivational speaker

Raise your hand if you’ve ever completed a survey where the available ratings ranged from “exceeded expectations” to “does not meet expectations” with maybe a “meets expectations” in between. I worked closely with an attorney once who always disagreed with this rating scale because, he argued, how do you know what my expectations are to begin with? Well, if you listen closely, and understand your client’s motives, you can then uncover their expectations.

Unfortunately, merely meeting expectations just doesn’t hack it anymore. Everyone’s replaceable. And someone who simply meets the client’s expectations can expectto be replaced sooner rather than later, most likely. Exceeding expectations in today’s world of stiff competition is the key to differentiating your company or firm and services from the pack.

How does one exceed expectations in this way? You’ve formed a deep relationship with your customer. You have heard what they have to say, and you understand what they’re truly trying to achieve. Exceeding expectations means not just helping them achieve their goals, but doing it right the first time, on time, on budget, and better than the competition. And most importantly it means helping them appear irreplaceable.

At LISI, we begin every digital marketing project with market research, interviews, and a survey that we ask law firms to fill out. We truly drill down to uncover what sets each firm apart and create a customized plan to communicate that differentiating factor through branding, website design and functionality, and online marketing. We ask direct questions, such as what other websites do they like from any industry, but we often only receive law firm sites as examples.

Recently, a client for whom we are redesigning their website and providing digital marketing and branding services shared sites that inspired them. They included exclusive yacht club, a luxury boutique hotel, and an ultra-high-end watch brand. These examples laid a powerful foundation for the message they wanted to convey. Luckily, they had the chops to back up the marketing.

A typical website design would not cut it for this client. A beautiful, sleek design wouldn’t either. We knew we had to exceed all expectations with the design and mindful site functionality, by anticipating their clients’ needs and use of this new site. By asking the right questions early on in the project, we were able to exceed their expectations on the project deliverables and experience.

Be proactive

This is actually three tips rolled into one:

Proactively share insights

One of the most important ways to exceed expectations and help your client look good is to stay on top of marketplace and industry developments and share key insights proactively. They are engaging you for a reason—if they could do it themselves, they likely would have. And if they knew the answers to their questions already, they wouldn’t need you.

Proactively address questions

Another way of being proactive is anticipating their questions about the project or work you are doing. It is too easy for the client to feel disconnected. This is your opportunity to share information that will help the client understand what you do, which will build trust and confidence in the process. Explaining to your client what you did, why you did it, and how you came to your decision will help them feel knowledgeable and in-the-loop.

Proactively problem-solve

The challenge here is, your client might not actually know what the problem is. Your job is to solve a potential problem before it becomes a very real problem. Put yourself in your client’s shoes and help them address issues they might not even realize are possible.

We have a current client with a small, and incredibly busy, marketing and business development team. We designed and built a new website for them, which supports their brand and position in their market. We’ve also designed other branding collateral like business cards, letterhead, and PowerPoint templates, but after all that proverbial dust has settled, we are still in contact with them every few weeks with emails and check-ins on how things are working and discussing process improvements.

We’ve shared articles from LISI and other sources to inform them of interesting industry developments. They have set up training sessions for us to train their lawyers and also “train the trainer” sessions, to help position them as legal marketing stars in front of their lawyers. They are so busy with their daily responsibilities, we deliver this support and pro-active solutions packaged in snack-size bites, which seems to really hit the spot!

Act transparently and with integrity

Your personal and professional reputation will proceed you wherever you go. Your firm’s reputation can be intrinsically linked to that as well, so it’s important you always act with honesty and integrity in all that you do.

So what’s the unifying theme in all of these suggestions? Loyal client relationships are hard-won, but not impossible to achieve. Trust, transparency, and communication are critical to the success of your partnership and should guide everything you do.