Blog: Lawrence Almeda

Lawrence G. (L.G.) Almeda is a lawyer with Brinks Hofer Gilson & Lione, one of the nation's largest Intellectual Property law firms. L.G. chairs the firm’s Nanotechnology Practice Group and has recently been appointed to the United States Commission on Civil Rights, State Advisory Committee. L.G. will be writing about Michigan's multicultural future as well as his work in IP as it relates to emerging technologies.

Lawrence Almeda - Post 3: Enhance Your Client Service Practices

Client service is an intangible parameter that can yield extremely favorable results involving client relationships. Finding ways to enhanced client relationships can affect your bottom line. Thus, in addition to providing a premium work product, it would behoove service providers to focus on ways to add value by providing enhanced client services, especially during these economic times.

First and foremost, you must provide high quality work. If this is not part of your practice, nothing else will have an impact. The last thing a client wants is a service provider who cannot produce a high quality work product.

So the question becomes: "How can I enhance client service?" I have provided intellectual property counseling for many years and am still discovering different ways to enhance client service and satisfaction. Here are some suggestions.

Be responsive. My first suggestion is a well-known practice, but must be restated again and again: Be highly responsive, even if it's not for work to be performed, but rather an inquiry about the status of a matter. Your clients will appreciate the fact that you showed attentiveness and interest in their requests.

This is not to say to drop everything that you are doing at that immediate moment. However, don't wait too long to respond to an e-mail or a phone call from a client or prospective client. If the matter is time sensitive and you are unresponsive, some clients will move on to the next person on their list to discuss the work to be completed. In many situations, they (consciously or unconsciously) strive for the feeling of progress by merely having the project assigned. And if it takes you more than 24 hours to respond to a communication (this is not preferred), you need to acknowledge the delay and explain what the hold-up was, e.g., you were out of the office, on a client assignment or handling a time sensitive matter. It is important to assure them that you are concerned with their matter. This implies that you were not being unresponsive without cause, and it also shows a sense of respect and appreciation for their business.

Find ways to make your clients' lives easier. Be creative. Your clients undoubtedly receive a vast amount of e-mails, phone calls, and faxes every day. Make their lives easier by being crystal clear and simple, spelling-out each task that you need them to perform. For example, when presenting a document for their review, where applicable:

  • E-mail pre-screened background material to the client. The pre-screened background material is a filtered-down version of the voluminous information that you could have otherwise sent to them. The pre-screened material should be only a reasonable number of pages (use your best judgment) to adequately bring them up to speed on a matter.
  • Have handy a ready-to-send comprehensive version of the filtered-down version in the event it is subsequently needed. Inform them that the comprehensive version is available.
  • Provide a brief summary. In the e-mail message that attaches the pre-screened material and document for review, provide a brief summary of what you need the client to review, stating it within the first couple sentences.
  • In situations where a content-packed e-mail is unavoidable, give the client a "heads-up" via phone call to simply inform him that such a communication is on its way and that it is high in content, but necessary for an adequate review of the document.

Provide a layman's translation with your advice. When delivering suggestions, advice or opinions during a client meeting, state your advice in industry terms and then follow through with a simplified layman's version. This will be much appreciated, especially by those who do not have experience in your field of practice.

Follow-up and follow-up. It can't be stressed enough: Keep your main client contact in the loop at all times. These days with speed of e-mail, keeping your clients in the loop is very easy to do consistently. But believe it or not, many clients still complain that their former service providers were lacking in this area. Even when there is no news to report, use a quick status update as a way to keep the lines of communication open by letting them know there is no news to report. They will appreciate the fact that you are checking in. This will show that you have them on your mind, are thoughtful and are still working on the project. It will again show your respect and appreciation for their business and assure them that you have their best interests at heart.

Make your client look great. Know their business. As a service provider, one aspect of your job should be to help your client look impressive, particularly your point person. Your point person ultimately has a boss who will be evaluating her job performance. Find out what affects their performance evaluation, and find ways to help them improve performance in those areas. This task coincides with your goal of providing a high quality work product. For example, if your point person is a business manager of the client, help him look outstanding in front of his vice president. If the VP is your point person, then make her impressive before her CEO, president, etc.

In summary, the bottom line is that you need to know and understand your client's business model, seek ways to add value to your relationship, be highly responsive to time sensitive matters assigned to your point person, provide practical suggestions that are consistent with their business model, be clear and concise with your advice, and provide detailed options with a simplified breakdown of steps.

These are merely some suggestions which should be taken on a case-by-case basis. However, a strong focus on providing enhanced client services will certainly enhance your relationships with clients and can ultimately affect your bottom line.