More of what clients really want – part one

What if you could get inside the heads of senior executives at large companies and discover what they value most in the lawyers they hire?

Well, now you can……thanks to a new book, Clientelligence: How Superior Client Relationships Fuel Growth and Profits by Michael B. Rynowecer.

The book is well written and provides significant insight as to what clients who invest in professional services really want. The author interviewed thousands of clients (which he refers to as C-level executives) to determine the activities they believe deliver the most value and drive their hiring decisions.

The author identifies four activities that deliver the most value.

  • Commitment to help
  • Client focus
  • Understanding the client’s business
  • Providing value for the dollar

In this post, I’ll examine the first two of these activities.

Commitment to Help

 Think about this activity as:

  • Acting as if the client’s problem is your problem
  • Serving the heck out of them.

If you do that, you will demonstrate your commitment to the client. Two ways to act as if the problem is your problem is:

  • Dig in and start serving immediately to whatever degree your legal expertise allows.
  • Listen and ask questions to understand the problem, its impact on the client, and how you can potentially help.

To illustrate the commitment to help principle, Rynowecer uses the example of a bacon and egg breakfast—the chicken makes a contribution…but the pig makes a total commitment.

He then provides an effective example of a big firm attorney (herein, the “Loser”) who received a call from a long time client, the Chief Legal Officer of a company, who just learned his company was subject to an SEC investigation into the company’s accounting practices. The Loser told his client that SEC work was not in his wheelhouse and he promised to connect the client with his west coast partner later in the day. In the meantime, the client called another attorney with whom he had worked recently and she was able to patch him through immediately to her partners with SEC experience. That firm got the business which ended up generating $33 million in legal fees.

At least from the facts we are provided, it seems that the Loser made no attempt to understand the client’s state of mind and what time and other pressures she was feeling upon hearing this bombshell that the company was under investigation.

Another approach the Loser could have taken was to listen, ask questions, and listen some more so he could understand what the client was thinking and feeling. He could have asked her some (or any) questions. For example:

  • When you think about the problem, how does it make you feel?
  • As long as the company is under investigation, how does that limit you? The company? The company’s customers?
  • What is the worst thing about being under investigation?
  • What is a win in this case, including time, resources, and effort spent? Why?
  • What about that result is so important?

Client Focus

Client focus is the second piece to serving the heck out of someone…in the way they want to be served. This means providing solutions that are tailor-made to the client and takes into account, not only its industry, market, financial, and other objectives, but also (and perhaps most importantly), its quirky preferences.

The book notes that while many providers ask clients about their objectives, 79 percent of them do not confirm their clients’ goals before beginning work on a project. The service provider doesn’t do this because they think it is obvious what the client is looking for, they don’t want the client to think they don’t understand, or they don’t want to bother the client.

To demonstrate the risk of not being client focused, the book provides a helpful example of a crucial client fact that a service provider overlooked to their detriment. Engineers prepared a proposal of an elaborate piping system design with a 25-year life span. Nice job except the potential client was located at a facility with a 10-year non-renewable lease. As the potential client noted, we are not going to proceed with you because “you’re offering us a limousine when a bicycle would work fine.”

 A client’s quirky preference must not be overlooked. In an earlier post, I demonstrated the importance of tailoring your service to match quirky (and maybe not so quirky) preferences in the context of a waiter or waitress performing the simple task of serving iced tea. Not asking sufficient questions (or perhaps not asking any at all) to fully understand the customer’s request can quickly and all too easily turn what should have been a pleasant experience into an unpleasant one…even if you believe that what you deliver is appropriate to the situation.  You can read the post here.

Image courtesy of Sira Anamwong at