How much easier would your life be if you got client information the first time you asked? Having to chase clients can be anxiety-inducing and is always a waste of time. Not receiving the right information at the right time will lead to lots of inefficiency and delays within your practice. Waiting on vital materials also often leads to a lot of work having to be done in a short period of time. This might lead to mistakes but will always lead to stress.
Whilst it might feel like there’s nothing you can do but wait, there are steps you can take to turn the time you spend waiting into time spent working.
How are you asking?
Client information is any data about your client that you might need to provide your service. This is anything you need for casework or invoicing, for example. Because of the variety of information, you might be asking for, there are a lot of ways to get it. Don’t confine yourself to an email if you don’t have to!
There is a temptation to hide behind email addresses but if you’re not receiving vital data despite countless emails, it’s time to change tactics (provided you have other contact details!). Some clients may be averse to digital technology in which case a phone call is required. If necessary, you can send a letter. It will be slower, but if it’s what gets a response, that’s what counts.
The ideal scenario is that you set a standard of communication and the expectation that it will be met before your services are engaged. Schedule a meeting with your prospective clients and ask them to send you some information in advance of it. Whether you call this a discovery meeting or a discovery call, set the expectation that you will receive the information beforehand.
If they don’t send you the information, tell them that you’ll reschedule the meeting until that information has been delivered. If you don’t reschedule, you’ve already set an example: the perspective client will feel like it’s OK if they don’t send the information when you ask for it.
When you’re meeting with clients tell them what you need and explain why you need it. Tell them why it’s important, and what impact it will have on your ability to perform the service they’re paying for. Explain in clear terms that engaging your services comes with the expectation that they will engage in the process.
Put together a checklist
When you’re thinking of taking on new clients the first thing you should work out is the common points in your process where you’ll need their information. What do you need for a typical income tax return? What documents do the Land Registry always need when you’re in the middle of the conveyancing process?
With this information, you can set up client checklists so that everyone knows what they need to do. Add deadlines to the items on the list so that if a client doesn’t have everything to hand immediately, they know when they need to deliver it. Preferably this is a checklist you can give to clients before the process starts, or is built into your process in such a way that you can build any information-gathering time in.
Practice Management Solutions
These days you can automate large parts of your processes, and information gathering is the same. There are a lot of Practice Management software solutions available on the market that can help you remind clients to submit information.
The idea is to automate your workflow and as a part of that process set automatic reminders that get sent to your clients as you’re reaching the point in the work where you need their data. If you’ve built an information checklist, you can often send that as a part of the reminder. Ideally, this removes the mental workload involved in remembering to remind clients to send you information as well as any anxiety that you’re bothering them. After all, you didn’t send that reminder, the software did.
Many Guilds, Institutes and other industry groups offer technical support that can help you send and receive documents from clients, so it’s worth looking at your memberships to see if you qualify for such benefits.
The human touch
Automated reminders are simple to use but they’re also easy to ignore. If you’re still not hearing back from your clients, it’s time to do some cause analysis. There must be a reason why your client is being uncooperative, so what is it? In the case of automated reminders, it could be ‘alarm fatigue’. Alarm fatigue occurs when we become desensitised to alerts and notifications. Involving a human being at this stage prevents alarm fatigue because of the varied method and tone of notification.
Giving someone on your team the job of following up with a client is a big step. The time (and therefore money) required for this task builds up. Ideally, you have a client administrator who can do this to prevent it from eating into fee-earner capacity.
Whoever you choose needs to be a polite and persistent voice, who can ask if there are any barriers to sending the information and help your client to overcome them. If all else fails, they’re there to set deadlines and increase pressure as it approaches.
Outline the Implications
Of course, despite everything you do, there are clients who will persist in their lack of cooperation. These are the kinds of clients that even though you’ve set and re-set expectations, they still don’t send the information you need. They’ve ignored your explanations, notifications, deadlines and checklist. You probably know immediately who in your client list we’re talking about.
If you have a client that is permanently the one that you need to chase, you’ve got a choice to make.
Is it time to disengage? If a client refuses to give you what you need to do your job, then you should consider if it’s worth the effort to pursue this business relationship. Your time and effort can be put to better use with other clients or by pursuing new leads.
Communication is the key. Be up-front and talk to them about how they’re the only client you really struggle with. Tell them that you’re going to have to put up your rate to allow for that extra admin time.
In either scenario, you may find that they suddenly get their act together.
Getting it done
There are technological aids to solving this problem but ultimately everything boils down to how humans communicate. You’ll need to be assertive, set expectations and be clear with clients.
If you’re struggling with a client and you need help analysing your processes, our mystery shopping service provides a clear picture of your firm and how it handles client interactions. Get a clearer idea of how we can help you efficiently get client information by contacting us today.