There is an old saying " Your clients are someone else’s prospective clients" which means anytime you are communicating with your clients your message needs to instill confidence that you and your firm are the correct choice to help them manage their unique situations.
Communicating effectively is not a skill that we are all born with but it is a skill that can be developed over time. A key component of being a good communicator is first and foremost being a good listener. Clients want to feel that you understand them and their needs. They also want to feel that you empathize with their unique situation. I've spent many years working in sales and I've learned some very valuable lessons when it comes to communicating effectively with clients. Below I've listed 5 phrases to avoid saying to your clients. These are phrases that sound innocent but can lead to a client losing confidence in your ability to deal with their needs.
Clients don't like to hear "no”, but the reality is that sometimes you have to say it to your clients. There are many reasons why you would have to tell a client no. Perhaps what they are asking for is a service that you can't provide. You've worked with a client to help them successfully close an important business deal, but now they need help with a legal matter that is outside your area of expertise. Most clients are understanding when you explain why you are saying no as opposed to just saying no. Also it will go a long way to generate goodwill by referring them to someone that can help. By making a recommendation you are helping your client save time and solve a problem which goes a long way toward showing them that you have their best interests at heart.
"No that’s not anything that I can handle for you."
"Bill, that is out of my scope of expertise; let me put you in touch with Sarah in our firm who specializes in estate planning."
"I need you to"
When clients are ready to work with you or are running into issues don't make them jump through hoops. Nothing is more frustrating to clients than being told "You'll have to" or "I need you to", in fact from a client's point of view it can seem very bossy. When a client has committed to giving you their hard earned money in exchange for your service, your goal should be to take as much of the work off their plate as you can. Refrain from giving them a checklist of demands. Instead, focus on getting them into a collaboration mindset with language that lets them know that you are working for them instead of them working for you. This is most important when dealing with an upset client. Nothing will exasperate a client more and make a bad situation worse than making a client feel they have to work to solve an issue they have with you. Make sure it is always you and your client working together to solve any issue that has arisen.
"To get started I need you to fill out this form."
"Gary, to get started we do need to get some information from you. I’m happy to work through this form with you or you can take it with you and fill out it before our next meeting."
"I'll have to"
Your clients want to hear what is being done, not what you need to do. This is especially true when the client is experiencing an issue that they feel they should not be experiencing. Before you respond back to anyone that is running into an issue with your firm make sure you take care of any steps on your end that need to be completed before the issue can be resolved. Things like documenting the requests or looping in additional team members. This should also apply to simple requests like a client reaching out to you for additional information about their matter or a copy of their invoice.
"I'm sorry you’re running into issues accessing your client portal, I'll have someone in our IT department look into this."
"I've made Mary in IT aware of your situation and she'll be in touch with you shortly to help resolve the situation."
"I'll need to get that invoice from accounting and get back to you with it."
"Tom here is the invoice you were looking for, let me know if I can help with anything else."
Take care of any actions on your end first before you reply--that way your client will have confidence in the fact that their requests or issues are being handled.
Can't, won't, don't, couldn't, shouldn't or wouldn't are essentially the same as saying "no" or at the very least have a negative connotation in the eyes of your client and should be rephrased. "I can't" has a harsher tone and feel to it then "I'm unable", yes you are still telling your client that you can't do something, but in a softer tone.
"You shouldn't be running into that issue."
"That's an unusual issue."
"I can't access your online portal without confirming your identity."
"If you're ok with it I just need to confirm your identity to access your online portal."
Steer clear of the canned customer service lines that we all hear time and time again. Your clients want to feel that you understand their unique situation and that they are not just seen as billable hours for you. These do nothing but serve to reinforce to them that they just another client in a long list of clients. Move away from these and make your message personalized and benefit driven.
"I'll transfer you to our estate planning division, please stay on the line as your call is very important to us."
"Pam, I'm going to transfer you Michele in our estate planning department who will be better equipped to answer that question, please hang on while I get her for you."
Both examples say the same thing, but the latter explains why being transferred is to your client's benefit.
Rewording a few phrases isn't going to make wholesale changes in how your clients view you and your firm. Conveying a client-centered image starts with changing your overall mindset and that of your firm. Handing out a list of words or phrases of what not to say to your team will not accomplish this goal by itself; it's more about understanding the client's perceived view of these phrases.
Start by making changes to how you communicate—use this list as a starting point. From here, look back through any saved replies or snippets that you use on regular basis and audit them. Make sure that what you are saying will instill confidence in your clients that you are the correct choice to help deal with their unique situation and that your wording doesn't leave a negative impression on them. Then start to look at the individual touch points that your clients have within your firm. Audit them to make sure that as different people within the firm interact with a client the message is always helpful, positive, and benefit driven.