What Clients Really Want

In a sales workshop for lawyers that I recently facilitated, a participant “role-played” a potential client. Together, we developed a scenario based on a business owner he knew well.

During this role-play, his fellow workshop participants sat one by one with the potential client to have a business conversation. Their goal was to be retained as his lawyer.

His goal as the client…well, he didn’t really know what his goal was. In character, he had a lot of potential legal issues that he saw as business concerns, without recognizing the legal implications.

After the role plays were over, I asked him what it felt like being in the client’s chair.  His response – “I wanted to feel like they cared about ME.”   Turns out, while he did care about his own clients, he did not fully recognize the importance to the client of feeling cared about until he sat in the client’s chair, himself.

That discussion reminded me of a program I co-led at a law school with the former General Counsel of a major US company. What did this executive want from his outside counsel?  To “feel the love."  His words.  And NO – there’s no oxymoron here.  Lawyers have feelings too!   He meant – show me that you value the relationship in addition to providing superior service.

Competence and creativity and even superior service are just the ticket in the door. Without that, the professional likely wouldn’t be or stay at the table. But caring can be the great differentiator, and a key to being a trusted advisor.

Changing chairs, even just to practice or see what it feels like, makes empathy come alive and shows what clients really want. 

5 replies
  1. peter vajda
    peter vajda says:

    Hi Charlie,

    The experience/exercise you describe is a form of Gestalt therapy. By creating a safe container one can engage a person in a "conversation" with anyone else (a client, friend, neighbor, parent, colleague, God, etc.) and, seriously, even with an object by physically moving out of one’s own physical space and physically moving into the space of that other. With the right lead-in, preparation and, again, an environment that truly exudes safety, one can move into "another’s space" and actually speak from that place, from the other’s perspective or orientation. 

    On the face of it, and when the "mind" gets its tentacles around it, many will dismiss the practice as (fill in the blank with any defensive fear-based word or phrase). I’ve used this exercise for years in my coaching work and clients are often surprised with various insights and AHAs that lead them to say, in some way, shape or form, "Hmmm,  I didn’t know s/he felt/thought that way…"

    It’s a powerful exercise that suports one to "walk in another’s shoes" way over and above projecting and judging what another is feeling or saying (which is most often off the mark.) 

    The exercise supports one to reach a place of understanding (not necessarily agreement although agreement is very likely), compasison and empathy which are real and heart-felt.

  2. Tina Beranbaum
    Tina Beranbaum says:

    Charlie, Stuart and Peter;

    Gestalt indeed – a wonderful framework for understanding and consulting with individuals, small groups and organizations.  Its lovely to know there are kindred souls out there.

    Stuart, your vignette is a great little reminder and I’ve sent it on to my law firm clients (as well as some others who need it).  Thank you!



  3. Tony Tiernan
    Tony Tiernan says:

    Great story! Your anecdote illustrates a fundamental and often neglected source of differentiation for professional services firms – the emotional value (as distinct from the rational business value) that clients get from the relationship with their professional advisors. Firms that take the trouble to uncover and then operationalize that value can create real differentiation for their business.

  4. Stewart Hirsch
    Stewart Hirsch says:

    Thanks Peter, Tina and Tony,

    Peter – I do this type of role-play exercise a lot with clients, and am always intrigued by the takeaways people get from standing in the shoes of the "other".  I often use that as a tool for my own coaching – thinking how would I feel and respond if I were in both my client’s shoes and the shoes of the person with whom my client is connecting.  

    Tina and Tony – hard to believe that just being human and showing we care can make so much difference!  But it does.  I do think a firm can instill this value, with the caveat that if it starts getting measured rather than lived, it may fall to the level of a tecnique, and be seen as such.  


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