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Do clients really want you to 'Exceed Expectations'?

Professionals are told that to protect and build their revenue base, they should become a ‘trusted advisor’ to their clients. The principle is sound, but confusion arises when putting it into action. 

In 2010, Matthew Dixon, Karen Freeman and Nicholas Toman published an article on the folly of providing ‘bells and whistles’ service in an attempt to win customer loyalty. Their research found that what customers really want is a satisfactory solution to their issues – and to minimise the effort they must make.

While this proposition was based on research into contact centre interactions in large organisations, it is applicable to the interaction of professionals (such as lawyers or accountants) with private and corporate clients. Reducing the work a client must do throughout an engagement will help you build loyalty more than trying to exceed expectations and ‘delight’ your client.

Minimise effort at each stage of the client pathway

How do you reduce the client’s effort? It’s helpful to consider the pathway a client follows when interacting with a lawyer. Below is a ‘client pathway’ developed by Sydney-based consulting group Second Road.

A client pathway provides a logical framework for determining the actions you might take. For each stage of the pathway, consider your current approach. Then put yourself in your client’s shoes and explore alternative ideas that would remove obstacles and reduce the client’s effort. They don’t need to be earth-shattering or complex – they just need to make the engagement easier for the client. Some ideas are provided below.

Putting ideas into action:  a suggested approach

Entice. Reduce the risk of mistrust or misunderstanding by using plain English in your communications and marketing materials. Be succinct about your purpose, what you do and how you do it. Be specific about the types of clients or situations you best serve.

Enter. Reduce the chance of emotional disconnection by listening for cues and clues about the client’s communication style. For example, in the vernacular of DISC® behavioral types, are they a highly expressive ‘Dominant’ or a reflective ‘Cautious’? Ask clients about past experiences so you can understand their emotional triggers, frustrations or bias.

Engage. Minimise instances when the client must follow up on progress or wait for you to return a call. Talk clients through the way you work.  Check this meets their expectations and if not, be prepared to make adjustments. Discuss how you will communicate progress. When a client calls your office and you’re not available, the person taking the message could ask the client to nominate the best times for you to call back.

Exit. Reduce the risk of post-engagement dissonance with a debrief within 30 days of the matter concluding. Ask the client if anything surprised them and use this feedback to make service improvements.

Extend. Make it easy for the client to refer you. Be specific about the types of client or situation you serve best (as in the Entice stage). Let them know about the practice you are building, the importance of referrals and what you will do if you receive a referral from them. Ask permission to stay in touch with the client and follow through on other issues or opportunities you identify.

By reducing the obstacles along the client’s pathway, you will increase client satisfaction, distinguish your service and accelerate client advocacy.

Further reading:

M Dixon, K Freeman and N Toman (2010) Stop Trying to Delight Your Customer, Harvard Business Review, July-August

David Maister, Charles Green and Robert Galford, (2000) The Trusted Advisor, Free Press and

Stephen Covey (2006) The Speed of Trust, Free Press

Don Peppers and Martha Rogers (2012) Extreme Trust:  Honesty as a Competitive Advantage, Penguin

A thorough explanation of the DISC® model is available at

HBR: Stop Trying to Delight your Customer

Sue-Ella Prodonovich