If you don’t have satisfied customers, you don’t have a business, says John Krajewski.
At the heart of any company’s growth is its ability to meet the needs of its customers. But it’s more than just answering your clients’ phone calls; it’s also knowing your clients and their business operations, says Krajewski, managing partner of the 35-employee law firm Stark & Knoll Co. LPA.
“Get to know them better as people and get to know the issues they’re dealing with,” he says.
Smart Business spoke with Krajewski about how to develop client relationships to guarantee customer satisfaction.
Q. What are the keys to developing trusting relationships with clients?
With our customers, we provide legal services, and in providing those services, our clients are buying our knowledge and expertise. But in reality, they can’t fully evaluate if we draft a good estate plan or write a good legal action.
What they are making their decisions on is the little things like phone calls being returned. Are they feeling valued — that their opinions and their business is valued?
Be responsive to their needs. If we don’t know the answer immediately, we’ll research it. If we can’t get to it that day, we will tell them we need to get back to them, and we will be prompt in getting back.
The most important thing is to be straightforward and honest with them. They simply don’t call us to generally chat. They call for our legal opinion and advice on how to get something done, and we try to give a clear path on how to achieve their goals.
Be clear with them. Lay the groundwork ahead of time for what they’re looking for. Sometimes they’re looking for a quick answer and they don’t want a treatise or a big paper written. They want just a short, simple answer. You have to know your client; you have to learn their business.
Q. How do you learn your clients’ business?
Some of it comes with just experience of working with them. Simply do your homework. Research — read their company handbook, read the materials that they provide for their customers.
Other aspects of knowing their business are walking through their facility, learning exactly what they do and how they do it. If it’s a manufacturing facility, to see how the operation works, find out who the key people are at the business and their various roles.
And to work as a team. We are attorneys and provide legal advice, but we try to do that in a team spirit. We do it in conjunction with the accountants, in conjunction with the bankers and in conjunction with the owners of the business.
Sit down and meet with them. We try to periodically sit down with them and at least annually, if not more often, take a review of where they are, where they want to be.
You not only talk to people when times are tough and you’re looking for business, but you talk to them when times are good and [find out] what their plans are. Some businesses, their plans are to expand into different market areas, different parts of the country or world. Others want to diversify and not be dependent on a product. It’s important to understand what your customers’ goals are.
By having the involvement … you learn what they do, and you can be on the lookout for issues or cases that you see come up that can affect them or decision or laws you see that can affect them, and you advise them of those things.
This is what we do. We’re a business law firm, and we are a small business. We understand the importance of not nickel-and-diming them on things, being responsive on the phone, and if they have a question, picking up the phone and answering the question. If it takes a little bit more work, then we do additional research. So we try to work with them as a team to try to grow their business.
Q. How do you maintain strong client relationships?
You call them up. Make sure everything is all right. We’re in this together to grow their business, to grow our business.
Personal contact — you need to stay in touch with your customers and your clients. It may be a regular monthly meeting with them or a quarterly meeting, but keeping in touch and not forgetting who your customers are.
I think the best advice is to talk to your clients, either at breakfast, lunch or visit their business. Sit down with them in periodic reviews and establish goals and objects of what they need and see if you can help them.
If you can’t be straightforward with that, get them the best help they can have no matter what the issue is. If it’s a legal area that we may not handle, we have to get them the best advice. They may be a great manufacturer, but just like they don’t know everything, we don’t know everything.
How to reach: Stark & Knoll Co. LPA, (330) 376-3300 or www.stark-knoll.com