Keep the Client from Turning on You by Avoiding Unexpected Detours

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When we were in Bali, we hired a driver for a tour. At one point, she stopped unexpectedly and the next thing we knew, we were trapped in a sales pitch.

She tried to sell us bags of coffee beans.

If this has never happened to you, I’ll warn you that it’s a common thing in many tourist areas. The drivers get a small commission for delivering warm bodies to salespeople.

We bought something because the entire scenario was awkward and hard to escape without spending a few bucks. The cost of these unexpected stops is trivial, but they substantially damage the relationship between tourist and driver.

An unclear path makes us nervous

When you’re touring a foreign country, it’s natural to place a great deal of trust in your guide. You don’t know the area, so you’re counting on the guide to show you interesting things and make your day enjoyable.

You want to believe that you’re safe and that you’ll return comfortably to your hotel after a good day.

When the driver does something suspect, like selling you out to a vendor, you get suspicious. You start wondering what’s coming next. You get anxious when the driver pulls up to the next stop and you internally question whether this is a scenic vista or another tourist trap.

When our drive in Bali stopped to sell us coffee beans, she changed our perspective and undermined our confidence. We suddenly saw the tour experience through a different filter.

Had the guide explained things in advance, we would have seen the stop in a more positive light.

Had she said “This coffee is excellent, they have a beautiful garden and view, and they give you free tastings” we would have been interested.

She could have gained our trust if she had said “They will try to sell you some coffee if you’re interested and you can choose to buy it or not.” If she added “I get a small fee for bringing you, but it’s up to you whether we stop,” we would have trusted her even more.

Had the driver been upfront, there’s a good chance we would still have opted to stop. I’m not opposed to some coffee. I’m not opposed to buying stuff while we’re on vacation.

The whole thing could have left a very different taste in my mouth.

The right detour, well-handled, enhances the experience

The coffee stop was pretty interesting.

They had a great garden of spices set in the rainforest. We got to see coffee beans growing, as well as  cinnamon, vanilla, turmeric, galangal, cacao, durian, mangosteens, papayas, pineapple, lemongrass, ginseng, pandanus, and torch lillies.

The setting was beautiful and the young salesperson gave us fifteen small cups of different beverages to test.

The coffee was delicious, but I nearly didn’t try it because I was annoyed with the way we were deceptively delivered to the salesperson. I don’t like surprises that involve selling me things in a hard-to-escape environment. I don’t like the pressure.

It’s sad that I ended up annoyed with the driver and the coffee place when it could have been handled differently and had a much better outcome for everyone.

I might have become a big fan of the driver and the coffee place, but instead I’m hesitant to recommend either.

Do your clients expect what’s coming?

We truly are the tour guides for our clients.

We take them by the hand and guide them through a complicated process. We know the way and we understand what’s coming. We’re in a position to manage their expectations.

We can earn their trust by warning them before things happen.

Our experience gives us the inside information. This isn’t our first rodeo. We already know what’s likely to happen as we move forward, even though our clients don’t.

It’s important to tell your clients what to expect right from the beginning. If they have trouble processing or remembering that information, communicate it repeatedly.

You might need to supplement that information with written materials, flow charts, or other graphics to help them appreciate the path you’re walking them down.

Build in room for the unexpected too

Clients also want to know what might happen unexpectedly. Give them as much information as possible so they aren’t surprised when even the most unlikely circumstances occur.

When your client understands all the potential detours in the path, an unexpected change isn’t really unexpected at all. It’s predictable and planned. That builds a trusting relationship and makes your clients comfortable with the process.

But when the client doesn’t know what to expect, they’re perpetually uncomfortable and untrusting.

Mapping the process for the client–in advance–is an automatic trust builder. Building trust is essential if your relationship is going to survive any truly unexpected bumps in the road.

Some rules for your next guided tour of the law

Those tourist sales traps have taught me some things that apply to law firms. Here are my takeaways from the rainforest coffee shop:

1. Map it

Use part of your initial meeting with the client to map out the process.

The client won’t absorb everything you say at this early stage because they’re upset, still processing their circumstances, and faced with deciding whether you’re the right person for their case.

Simply providing the map goes a long way toward building trust and helping the client understand that you know the way to a good outcome.

Give the client something to refer to after the meeting. That could be a printed document, a link to illustrations on your website, or video/animation that walks them through the process.

These types of marketing assets are useful whether your prospect is a business person or a consumer.

All matters that require hiring a lawyer are stressful. The purchaser always appreciates something they can refer to later that explains the complicated process.

2. Include the likely

Your discussion of the case process should include what will commonly occur.

In a litigation matter, you’ll walk the client through the filing of pleadings, discovery, pre-trial conferences, etc. Explain how the events are typically sequenced, what might happen simultaneously, and how much it’ll all likely cost.

Use your expertise to predict as much as possible. Explain how certain events might shortcut the process to achieve settlement and resolution. Talk about the pressures clients typically feel at each stage of the sequence.

You want the client to appreciate the length of the journey as well as the ups and downs they’ll experience.

You want the client to know when things might speed up or slow down.

You want the client to know when things might be exciting or stressful or disappointing.

Be sure to explain the people who will play a role in the experience: who’s on the team and who might interfere. Certain players can destabilize the client’s equilibrium, but you can keep them calm and comfortable by keeping them informed.

The more the client understands what’s coming, the more trust you’ll build. Information in advance demonstrates your position as the expert guide. Trust grows even faster as your predictions turn into reality.

3. Include the very, very unlikely

Explain the process further by detailing the exceedingly unlikely events that might occur.

Some lawyers fear scaring their client by detailing the unlikely events–some of which may sound exceptionally frightening.

But preparing your clients for the unexpected helps to build trust, especially if the unexpected thing happens. This is important if you work in an area where unexpected things happen frequently.

By educating your client in advance, you turn unexpected events into trust building events instead of trust diminishing events.

A tour guide might not want to open their sales pitch with landslides, volcano eruptions, tsunamis, or terrorist bombings. But including hard-to-anticipate events and the possibility of other unforeseen incidents in the conversation keeps the trust alive if something unforeseen does occur.

Don’t start your conversation with frightening words, but mention that the unexpected is less upsetting if it’s discussed and understood. Ease your client into the world of unexpected, unlikely events.

We’ve all encountered the crazy, incredibly unlikely scenario.

You might need a rehearing for the appeal because the judge lost an election. The opposing counsel might be disbarred for selling drugs or structuring currency transactions. The court clerk might lose the case file, forcing everyone to repeat some work.

Crazy things happen. Hopefully they won’t happen this time, but if they do, your client will be prepared.

Clients who understand that the process isn’t completely predictable can handle the unexpected when they trust their counsel to keep guiding them down the path.

4. Remind them of the map

Don’t forget about the big-picture map after your initial meeting.

Refer back to the map regularly. Explain where you are in the process and what’s next.

Be sure to explain how far you’ve come at this point and how much progress you’ve achieved. The client should always understand where they’ve been, where they are, and where they’re going.

The early map presentation is just an overview. As the journey continues, drill down into each stage and flesh out the map. Provide lots of detail for your client.

You need something to discuss while you wait in those long mediations or settlement discussions. Use that time to expand and explain the map.

You want the client to leave each discussion understanding the great progress you’ve made and what’s coming next. Understanding the journey before they take it is a key component to the client’s comfort and trust.

The long journey will end well

The end of a long legal process, just like a full day with a tour guide, can and should end well.

The tour guide should earn a good review on TripAdvisor. You should earn referrals, future business from the client, and an excellent review on your site of choice.

At the end of a legal journey, your client should feel accomplished. They saw the path from the outset because you mapped the experience in advance. They hit some bumps in the road, but those bumps were easy to overcome because, thanks to your advance communication, the client wasn’t too surprised.

By explaining the details of the map in advance, you used each event to build trust. The client’s comfort grew as the matter progressed.

There will always be twists and turns along the path of any legal matter. The unexpected is unavoidable.

When you start the relationship with a foundation of trust, and then help the client anticipate the next steps, that trust gets stronger along the way.

The client ends their journey feeling good about you and your work, and knowing their guide was always with them, always on their side, and always understood the way to get to their destination.

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