Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella likes to say that “trust cannot be claimed – it can only be earned.” As in-house counsel we must always remember that we need to earn the trust and confidence of our clients every day as we need to view them as our ultimate customers – and especially now more than ever as we help our respective organizations during these uncertain times with the COVID-19 pandemic. Here are some best practices – in no particular order – that all in-house counsel can employ to ensure they are putting their clients at the center of everything they do by embracing a customer obsession mindset with them:
- Super Fast & Custom Responsiveness: We are all customers in some shape and form. When we need help from our own service providers we all appreciate it when they respond back to us quickly. Likewise, as in-house counsel we need to remember that we are also all service providers and when our business clients reach out to us for help we need to respond back to them ASAP. One of the very worst things we can do as in-house counsel is to ignore our clients since they are our most important customers. We want to inspire our clients to have the confidence in seeking out our legal advice time and time again as that is the greatest compliment they can pay us. Always be sure to respond back to your business clients on the same day of their initial request – and ideally within a few hours – even if it’s only to acknowledge receipt of their inquiry. If you cannot answer their question(s) immediately please be sure to provide them with a reasonable time estimate as to when you’ll be able to help address their request(s) in a more comprehensive manner. Also customize your response back to your business clients in the medium that your business clients find most appealing to them whether it be via email, via Microsoft Teams, live conversation, instant message, text message, etc…
- Be Short & Sweet: All of our clients are super busy business professionals. When we deliver our legal advice to them always be succinct and to the point as our clients do not need to read lengthy emails or long legal memorandums. In addition, avoid using any legal jargon in your advice and make it super easy and very clear to understand. When I respond to an email from my clients my “golden-rule” is that I never reply back with an email that is longer than the screen of my Surface Laptop – and probably better to make it even shorter and more easily readable as your clients are probably digesting their emails on their phones. If my advice is more involved then I will simply set up a conference call with my client to discuss further. Also when I deliver presentations to my clients I try not to speak longer than 15 minutes in length – the typical timeframe of a TED Talk presentation – as our business clients are typically not interested in hearing their lawyers speak for an extended period of time (believe it or not).
- Overcommunicate When Needed: Our clients also don’t want to be blindsided or surprised when significant issues arise. For highly visible matters or issues that are important to your clients be sure to provide constant status updates by “overcommunicating” to them as needed so they remain well-informed. In my experience it’s always better to be conservative and to “overcommunicate” with our business clients regarding high-profile matters versus “undercommunicating.”
- Embrace Smart Risk-Taking: As we counsel our business clients remember that many business clients are seeking to understand the true “practical” risk of making a particular decision versus the “theoretical” risk. In-house counsel can provide high-value legal services to their clients when they help them engage in smart risk-taking and in this article I provide a methodology on how lawyers can help their clients take smart-risks.
- Actively Learn the Business: Invest the time to understand the business that you are supporting. To the extent that in-house lawyers can deepen their understanding of their company, its customers, its solutions, its business models, its opportunities, its challenges, its competition, etc…they will be better positioned to provide higher impact legal support to their clients. Just the other day I was speaking to a senior lawyer at a major retail provider and he told me how their lawyers are required to work on the front-lines with customers at their stores for a few days as part of their onboarding into the company so they can better understand its business. Look for opportunities to absorb yourself in your company’s business by attending key business and leadership team meetings, shadowing your key clients to get a “day in their work life” perspective from them, participating in internal company trainings, using its products/solutions, etc…
- Know Your Clients: Spend some time getting to know your clients, their backgrounds, their interests, etc….Reviewing their profiles on LinkedIn and connecting/following them via LinkedIn and Twitter (if they are as Twitter user) are great ways to build your professional relationships with your business clients and become more empathetic to their perspectives and needs. Also when your work with new clients invest the time to reach out to them, introduce yourself, try to understand their needs and let them know that you and your team stand ready, willing and able to help them.
- Feedback Is a Gift: Actively seek feedback from your key clients and encourage them to provide constructive feedback regarding how you and your teams can better serve them. Create a “safe” space to invite such feedback from your clients and once you receive that feedback thank them for taking the time to do so and be sure to convert that feedback into actionable steps for you and your team to take moving forward.
- Share Knowledge & Learnings: Try to be more strategic when delivering legal services to your business clients. While in-house counsel are often in a more tactical and “reactive” mode in helping to problem solve the many inquiries from their business clients, also be sure to proactively share thoughtful knowledge and learnings with them. Such best practices and lessons learned can offer your business clients with increased value that can enable them to be more agile and more well-informed.
- Closely Align with the Business: Be sure to spend time with your clients to clearly understand their respective business goals and align the provision of your legal services with such goals. Consider providing your senior clients with a periodic report leveraging data that demonstrates how you and your teams are positively impacting the key focus areas of your senior clients. Once a month I provide my senior client and his leadership team with a report in a table format that I call a “scorecard” where I depict the work we have completed during the previously month in an easily consumable fashion that is aligned to their key business objectives.
- Every Client is Important: While we all have senior clients that we need to serve and pay great attention to, also remember that every client is the most important client – regardless of their seniority in your company. Treat all of your clients as if they are your company’s CEO.
- Learn, Learn and Learn: Take the time to learn from your legal teammates – and your business clients if they are in a sales/customer-facing role – about what they do to advance customer satisfaction with their own clients and customers. Over the years I have had the privilege to provide legal support to world-class sales organizations and many excellent customer account executives. Observing how they serve their customers has been highly instructive in helping me better serve my clients.
- Actively Follow-Up: In my experience as an in-house counsel sometimes we render legal advice to our business clients on an issue and we may never hear back from them about that issue as it goes into a proverbial “black hole.” When needed don’t be shy in following-up with clients to ask if they require any additional help from you on a previous matter.
- Admit and Learn from Mistakes: We all make mistakes at times – especially in a fast-paced environment where we are trying to keep up with the sometimes demanding needs of our clients. When we make mistakes with our business clients be sure to own up to those mistakes, apologize quickly for your mistakes and be sure to learn from those mistakes.
- Embrace Change: We all know that the “the only constant is change” – especially in our world that is driven by “tech intensity.” Recognize that you will need to constantly evolve how you serve your clients in our ever-changing world. Don’t avoid or be afraid of change – instead, by being open to change you will grow your in-house counsel skills and be better positioned to provide greater value to your clients.
- Take Ownership: Be sure to really own and nurture your trusted legal advisor relationship with your clients. Even if you are not the General Counsel in your organization, always have a General Counsel mindset with your business clients as being their “go-to” lawyer who they will constantly look to for excellent legal advice and counsel.
As in-house lawyers I believe that we have some of the best jobs in the legal industry and we have a great opportunity in front of us as our clients rely on us more than ever before. Best of luck on your journey in embracing a customer-obsession mindset when serving your clients.