7 Tiny Steps to a 5-Star Review

It takes shockingly little to get a five-star review. But many of us fail to do even the small amount of work that’s required. That’s why some lawyers have two hundred reviews, but many still have none.

At some level, getting a five-star review is unpredictable. We tell ourselves we’ve got to do amazing work, get a great result, and make the client exceptionally happy. It feels like all the stars (all five of them) have to align. We do the work, push for the perfect outcome, and often we still don’t get the review we’d like.

Is it possible that we focus on the wrong part of the work when we think about getting great reviews?

[Oh, let me just say something to you B2B lawyers who are thinking this review stuff doesn’t apply to me. What a crock. I’m a B2B consumer of legal services myself. I ALWAYS read your reviews. “She cheats on her billable hours,” “She tells you how great she is, but she’s lying,” “He never called me back.” Trust me B2B lawyer–we read those reviews.]

It’s often not the amazing work that gets the review; it’s something else. It’s something small and personal. It’s something that binds us to the client as one person to another. It’s the little things.

I love a five-star review. It gives me the warm fuzzies.

Of course, I’m not sure that I love a five-star review as much as I hate a one-star review. A one-star sends me into a downward spiral of depression and leaves me feeling like the whole world is going to end. Maybe I need a counselor? I should probably work on my self-esteem.

Seriously, the way I look at the world, it takes about three five-star reviews after a one-star for my emotional balance to be restored. I probably care too much about what others think, but it really is like a gut-punch to have a former client rip me a new one in a public forum. I’m not a big fan of humiliation. I get defensive, agitated, and upset, and I fantasize about squeezing the reviewer around the throat with my bare hands. Yeah, I need a counselor.

The five-star review

I pushed my associates to get a great score on our net promoter score surveys. We called every client and asked them “On a scale of zero to ten, how likely are you to refer your friends and family to our law firm?” Oh, how I loved the 10s.

A 10 is better than pizza, better than sex, and better than a test drive in a Tesla.

Okay, okay, you’re right–pizza is actually better than a 10. But it has to be a pretty great pizza.

Then, along came Google reviews, Yelp, and the others. Why would I ask a client how likely they were to refer, when we could simply ask them to recommend us online, in public, to their friends? I became convinced that an online review was a much more accurate indicator of how well we’d performed. Nowadays, I’ve shifted my focus from net promoter score to online reviews.

It starts before it starts

The five-star review starts early. It often gets going before you’ve ever talked to the client.

A five-star review is frequently rooted in the referral. When the future client asks for a recommendation from the friendly lawyer she’s talking to at her kid’s swim meet, the response from the lawyer (the referral source) impacts the review that will be written months later. That first conversation sets expectations and impacts your number of stars. An enthusiastic referral builds trust. An ambivalent referral is less likely to impact the prospective client emotionally.

A good referral makes things better–at least, they feel better, or in my case, taste better. Let me explain:

I had a scoop of ice cream in San Francisco. It came after a six-hour flight from Raleigh. I arrived in San Francisco specifically to try the ice cream.

Was it worth the trip?

Of course it was. There’s zero chance I’m flying across a country for ice cream and then deciding I’ve made a mistake. I was going to love that ice cream no matter what. We could discuss the amazing flavor, the texture, and the fact that it was the perfect temperature. But realistically, the recommendation that I fly 3,000 miles to taste the stuff ensured that I was going to love it. I had a lot invested in this ice cream, and the referral made it delicious.

Of course, actually doing great work helps, too.

It doesn’t hurt if your entire intake process feels good to the prospective client. When the client gets a prompt response, an immediate appointment, a greeting at the door, a short wait in the lobby, and a sense that they are safe, secure, and cared for–well, the five-star review might be written before the representation even gets started.

Everything about your process drives the tone of the online review. The review process starts at the outset–not the conclusion–of every engagement.

The five-star review is on the line through the entire client experience, from the moment the client first discovers your name, through their experience of your website, on through the initial call or online inquiry, and right into your office or online portal for the first meeting. You dramatically increase the likelihood of that review being written if the client experience is warm, comforting, and trust-building. Every moment of the process should deliver a reassuring embrace, communicating a sense of certainty that this problem will be solved.

It’s the little things

Many of our clients are in crisis. But even when it’s not a crisis–perhaps it’s just an inconvenience–hiring a lawyer is stressful. Our world is comfortable to us, but our clients are visitors in a foreign land. The language is different, the people wear different clothing, and our fees are so high that the money might as well be a foreign currency.

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When everything is stressful, it’s even easier to comfort a client because they so desperately need comforting. The little things mean more when the client is out of their element. You don’t have to do much to drive home the message that you care.

When you care about the client, the client will care about you. That caring will get you those five-star reviews.

Take these actions during your representation:

1. Thank the client

Send the client a handwritten thank-you note when they hire the firm. Let the client know how much you appreciate the opportunity to be of service, and that you know they could have chosen a different law firm. Let them know how much you respect their decision to seek help. If you’re as lazy as I am (or have awful handwriting), use a service to write the notes. This doesn’t need to be a one-and-done. You can send more notes to the same client. Clients appreciate it if you thank them every chance you get.

2. Listen more than you talk

We talk way too much. Our clients want to be heard. We can’t hear them until they have had a chance to say what they need to say. Do whatever you have to do to keep your mouth shut and allow your client to talk as long as they need to talk. Don’t interrupt. Don’t offer advice until they’ve finished. Let them talk and talk until they run out of steam. Listen carefully. Repeat at every opportunity.

Some clients need to tell their story more than once. Some clients talk incessantly. If you want the five-star review, you need to listen. Fantasize about the Tesla test drive if you have to, but look like you’re listening. Listening is what caring looks like in action.

3. Return their calls now

When I ask my mother to call me it takes her twenty-four hours. You know why? Because she doesn’t love me.

Nobody who cares about you takes a full day to call you back.

I’ve got a toothache and I call the dentist at 8 AM. They call back tomorrow at 8 AM. What do I do? I get another dentist.

Do whatever you have to do to return every client call the same day. Better yet, get back to them in an hour. If you’re not going to return the call yourself, then be sure to have someone else do it, and have them apologize and explain your absence.

Or don’t return the call fast, and find out how a one-star review feels. Ouch.

4. Call proactively

You’re going to have to talk to your clients at some point. They seem to think that giving you all that money entitles them to conversations with you. Whatever.

If you’re going to talk to them anyway, why not call them before they call you?

That way you get to decide when it’s going to happen, plus you get big-time brownie points for calling first. Hit the green button on your phone, give them an update, and ask if they have any questions. That five-star review is far more likely to happen when you get proactive.

5. Call at odd hours

This is so stupid and easy that I can’t believe it works. But it does.

Call or text the client in the evening, or on a weekend, and let them know you’re working on their case. Call at 10 PM and wake them up. Call at 6 AM while they’re getting dressed. It’s so weird but it works like a charm. Try it and email me with your results.

6. Communicate the plan

Use a couple of minutes of every discussion to reiterate the master plan for the case and where you stand relative to the plan. Be sure the client knows what’s going to happen and when it’s going to happen. Make sure the client knows what to expect long before it happens. Clients just want to know what’s going to happen. Tell them.

7. Talk about money

If you’re charging hourly, then you need to be talking about money. Sure, you’re doing frequent billing and keeping the client aware of the financial impact of the decisions being made. But all legal matters involve a balance of cost and benefit. The expenditure in every engagement is significant. The more you talk about fees, the more likely you are to earn that five-star review.

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Many of us don’t enjoy money talk. I get it. I feel awkward about it sometimes as well.

But legal decisions are always money decisions. The more you talk about the money, the more the client will feel in control of the matter and understand the choices they face. The choices clients make aren’t always easy, but the more they understand what the choice will cost, the more likely they are to feel good about their relationship with the law firm. Get over the discomfort, put the money front and center, and get lots more five-star reviews.

Ask and ye shall receive a five-star review

There will always be clients who are unhappy, no matter how hard you try–that’s the nature of our game. But if you employ these seven suggestions, you’ll mostly have clients willing to write you a five-star review. They aren’t looking for winning (although that always helps); they’re looking for a caring commitment to them as people, and to their cause. These little expressions of caring go a very long way.

Ask for the review. These little online blurbs matter more now than ever. You’ve delivered on your promise to care and your client feels it because you’ve done the things that matter.

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