Failure to Communicate Can Cost You Clients
In early March 2018, I flew from Birmingham to Minneapolis, where I rented a vehicle from a certain rental company that shares a name with a historic Texas landmark. Then I drove to Wisconsin. The next day I drove back to Minneapolis and returned my rental car. I took the tram to the terminal where I got my ticket and went through security. As I was getting re-dressed going through the TSA scanners and began rearranging my belongings, I realized I had left my sunglasses in the car. Looking at my watch and then at the lines, I realized I didn’t have time to go back to the car rental location, get my sunglasses, then go back through security.
I called the rental, went through about 18 automated menus, and finally got through to the rental desk at Minneapolis-St. Paul airport, Terminal 1, where the phone rang and rang and rang and … went to voicemail. I left a message explaining the situation – I had just left my sunglasses in my vehicle; if you call me back right away, you may be able to get them to me before my departure. I called seven more times after that, and no one ever answered the phone.
I called the next day, and no one answered the phone. No one ever called me back. Two days later, I saw on the rental company’s lost-and-found page for Minneapolis-St. Paul airport, Terminal 1 that a pair of sunglasses had been found. I filled out report, submitted it, and waited. And waited. Six days, I waited. Nothing. So I went to Twitter to air my grievances.
The rental car company responded to my tweet and we had a good conversation by Direct Message, and they were very reassuring. The next day, I got an email that my sunglasses had not been found. A couple days after that, the rental company’s Twitter guy sent me a message asking me to rate my experience.
The guy didn’t know what he had asked for, because he got both barrels in the most polite-but-displeased manner available to me. I owned up to losing my sunglasses. That’s on me. But then I called trying to get them to resolve a very small problem for me. Nine times, I called. I never got an answer. I had left a message immediately after the problem arose making them aware of the very small problem and asking for help to resolve it. Never did I receive any response. The Twitter guy was again very reassuring that rental company was doing everything in its power to locate my lost item and that he had asked someone from the location at Minneapolis-St. Paul airport, Terminal 1 to give me a call.
Several days later they did call, and put me on hold for ten minutes while they searched lost-and-found. They reported back that they did not find my sunglasses. The 10-minute search did cause me to wonder how thorough a search had been performed when I got my first email notice. I was promised a phone call the next day. I did not actually expect to be called back, and I was not disappointed. But I did receive another email confirming my lost item had not been found.
What if I failed to communicate with my clients like this?
Let’s apply this to a legal context with the following hypothetical: A current client calls me with a very small problem. I’m busy, so I don’t answer the phone. He leaves a message, telling me what his small problem is and that if I respond to his message quickly, I can probably solve his small problem quickly and keep it from escalating. But I don’t return his call. It’s not personal; it’s just that I can’t be bothered about it. Not only that, I ignore his next seven calls. I even refuse to answer the phone when he calls the next day. The day after that, he sends me an email, telling me his problem was worsened. Sorry, dude, I’m not going to reply. Got other stuff going on. But even if I didn’t, I’m probably not going to reply.
Days later, he calls my boss telling him about the problem. My boss believes in me, so he reassures my client that I’m a good lawyer and an upstanding guy, and he’s certain that I’m on top of it. But I’m not any of those things. The boss brings the call to my attention, so the next day, I fire off an email, “Sorry. Can’t help.”
More days go by, and my client calls my boss again. And despite all the mounting evidence to the contrary, my boss still believes that I’m not a scoundrel assures the client that I will call him. Then boss tells me to call him. Do I call him? Nope. I don’t call or respond in any way.
You know what happens next in this scenario? My client fires me. Rightfully. Not only is he going to fire me, he’s never going to use me again. And he’s going to do his darnedest to make sure no one he knows does either. He called me with a small problem, which was clearly his fault but which I could have easily solved for him. But I just ignored him altogether and with total indifference. Now his problem is going to cost him money out of his pocket that it otherwise would not have if I could only have been bothered to respond to him in a timely fashion.
When you choose not to communicate with your clients, what you are actually communicating to them is that they and their business are not important to you. I’m sure none of you would ignore your clients like that. But if you were otherwise inclined to, I would implore you not to do that. It’s not nice, and he might just put you on blast to everyone who reads his blog and follows him on social media. Or on your Google reviews. Or to the state bar. You get the idea. Just timely and effectively communicate with your clients. It’s good for everyone.
Photo by Simon Huggins.