Communicating With Clients: Know Who Your Audience Is

Communicating with clients and colleagues used to be a simple matter. All you needed was a phone and some stationery. Today you need something more: flexibility.

Some people respond best to e-mail. Others like the human touch of a phone call. Younger clients prefer the laser efficiency and instant gratification of texting. Others still – such as co-workers – may respond quickest to a note left on their chair.

One person’s best method of communication is another person’s worst. Knowing which method to use in a given situation is an art and a science I find fascinating.

In the past, I’ve written about how technology changed the legal industry: The paradigm shifts of digital marketing, virtual law firms, e-discovery, outsourcing and so on.

But the biggest change of all is in day-to-day communication with clients, prospects and friends. This basic communication is the lifeblood of our industry. And it has changed profoundly.

Don’t take my word for it. Look at highlights from a study by Mary Tellis-Nayak of the National Research Corporation and NRC Health.

In just four years, we’ve seen major changes in the way we communicate.

  • Text messaging is on the rise. Texting is the preferred channel for the under-45 crowd. If you want to reach that age cohort and get a quick answer, texting might be the way to go.
  • Cellphone use skews older. People over 45 talk on cellphones more than their younger counterparts. Cellphone use increases between ages 45 and 74.
  • Home phones preferred for 75-plus. Many people younger than 45 don’t even have a landline. Those who do often see it as an emergency line. But many older clients need to be at home to be reached. Your best bet may be calling in the early morning or early evening.
  • Everyone’s going social. Online chat via Facebook is popular with 25- to 34-year-olds. Seventy-four percent of online consumers use social media websites. Facebook Messenger is a viable channel for private, two-way communication. Plus, many communities have members-only groups where peers rely on each other for info. Getting in on these conversations is a smart move.
  • Inboxes are out. E-mail usage is down 11 percent in four years. Don’t expect anyone to be as focused on their e-mail accounts as they used to be. Ever notice that many people you send e-mails to don’t read to the bottom? Me too. They miss out on important info. Make sure subject lines are crystal clear and that messages are simple and concise with the important stuff up top. I highlight any info or directions that require immediate action on the reader’s part.

One person’s best method of communication is another person’s worst.None of the above should come as a huge surprise. What’s interesting to me though is how the legal profession as a whole historically has been slow to adapt to the communication and technology trends that we all intuitively know to be true.

I’ve written about how lawyers can be set in our ways, and how that’s not always a bad thing. (Formal dress being one example that still has tremendous benefits in given circumstances.)

But being slow to adapt to communication trends can be detrimental to your practice. Do you recognize and meet the communication needs of each individual client? We’re in a service business. Good service means knowing when to customize our approach to each client.

Here are just a few signs that you might need to choose your communication methods more carefully:

Do you find yourself dashing off an e-mail out of convenience to avoid taking the time to chat with a client who needs back-and-forth communication to get to the bottom of their concerns?

Do you text someone who you know prefers e-mail?

Are you still only using phone calls or snail-mail, and not current methods?

In the legal industry, we have pressing deadlines and need to reach clients and opposing counsel ASAP. It’s crucial to be conversant with all channels of communication.

Knowing which method to use given the person and situation is key. Your clients will be happy. And you’ll get your job done in a more efficient way with less stress.

Michael C. Craven is a family law partner at Harrison & Held LLP. He is a member and officer of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers and has long been fascinated by the world of legal marketing.

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