We often preach the importance of managing clients’ expectations—it’s a common theme explored in our client feedback interview work. Managing expectations takes many forms and often relates to deadlines, budgets, project plans, news and updates.
But managing expectations starts long before that and is often about clear communication more than anything else. Set an agenda for every meeting. If you fail to tell a client the purpose of a meeting, then you leave it up to the client to imagine the purpose. Do you want to let the client know about some bad news in a matter? Is the firm merging and dropping the client due to conflicts? In other words, don’t add unnecessary stress to your client’s life. Stating the clear purpose of a call or meeting is a simple but often overlooked tool that can ease stress and manage expectations.
Likewise, email is an incredibly valuable communication tool, but it can just as easily induce anxiety. Use the business best practice of effective email subject lines. Never use “FYI” or your client’s company name as the subject line. Be clear and concise in the email, and let your clients know that your communication has valuable purpose.
If, as outside counsel, you are investing in the relationship and taking time to meet with your client, let them know why and state a purpose beyond just checking in. It may be as simple as: “I would like to spend 30 minutes with you to better understand your business challenges over the next 6 to 12 months.” Or: “I know we did well on that last deal, but let’s take a few minutes to talk about what we could have done better.”
Also, important clients want to feel special. In a recent interview, an in-house counsel told us, “The last time I met with a partner, I don’t know whether it was a special trip to see me or they were fitting me into the schedule because they happened to be in town. I know we have a lot of important things to discuss, so I hope they were making the investment seeing me and I wasn’t an afterthought.”
Make sure your clients know that they are important enough for you to invest in the relationship through time spent together and, of course, why.