Nasty surprises costs you clients: 3 ways lawyers and accountants can avoid giving clients those nasty surprises

06 Jan 2017

When we are interviewing our clients’ clients as a part of an independent client service review programme one of the questions we ask is what the interviewee considers to be the critical success factors in terms of building and maintaining a successful client-adviser relationship.

One of the things we almost always hear is “I don’t want any nasty surprises when it comes to bills.”

This is often repeated or brought up when we discuss pricing too.  Clients – otherwise satisfied with the service and quality of the advice they receive – bemoan the fact that at some point they received a bill that was either larger than they thought it would be or totally unexpected altogether.  The only problem is that, although they are generally happy with the service and advice, this is the bit they remember about their experience and it has repeatedly been proven in marketing circles that one bad experience can outweigh ten good experiences.

It’s also proven that clients are more likely to pass on a bad experience to a friend, contact or colleague than they are a good one so, in a world that relies heavily on internal and external referrals, how do you avoid giving clients a nasty shock?

Here are the 3 golden rules:

1. Communicate

If a bill is going to exceed the original quotation, call (not email) the client and explain why and by how much.  All of the evidence we have gathered points to the fact that clients are (begrudgingly) accepting when an estimate is passed but they are not accepting if that isn’t communicated to them or substantiated.   

2. Underline any additional fees

The vast majority of clients – and I mean 99.99% - understand there has to be a cost associated with certain pieces of work.  However they also don’t know what they don’t know so if a bill arrives out of the blue then there’s a risk the client will a) question its validity and b) be pretty annoyed about having to question its validity.

This is easily avoided.  If there is going to be an extra cost, make sure you explain what is required and why and provide an estimate of the probable costs.  Then repeat that by email.  Then make sure you ask one simple question:

“If you’re OK with all of that, would you like me to do that work for you on that basis?”

This gives the client the final say, avoids any awkward conversations down the line and improves your cash collection and recovery in one fail swoop.

3. Draw a clear line between added value and billable work

Whether you are a solicitor, a patent or trade mark attorney, an accountant or a barrister yours is a highly competitive market and all clients – and I would say without exception - are looking for added value.  For some that might be secondments, for some training, for some it might be a wee bit of corporate hospitality.  However for ALL clients it means knowing they can ask you the odd question here and there without being charged for the privilege.

Again this is a gut feeling rather than a provable statistic but I would say one of the top 3 reasons for moving lawyer or accountant is the fact “they turn the clock on every time I ring.”

However you can’t work for free make sure you delineate between what can be asked free of charge and when the clock does come on.  As a general rule of thumb I tend to refer back to something a chairman of a Glasgow firm told me many years ago:

“If I can answer it off the top of my head there and then, it’s free.  If I have to look something up or have a proper think about it, it’s chargeable.”

Not fool-proof but it’s a start!

Independent client service reviews uncover a wealth of priceless insight firms can use to strengthen their current relationships and inform their marketing decisions so that they win more new clients.  If you would like a copy off our special report ‘how you can win more work just by listening to your clients’, drop me a line and I’ll be happy to send you a copy over.


Posted by Douglas  |   1 Comments

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