Step Into Your Client’s Shoes

I learned everything I ever need to know about client service the first time I closed a deal on my own. I was a young client, anxiously micro-managing a negotiation that my outside counsel (whom I’ll call Steve) could have mastered in his sleep. One night, after we had reviewed the negotiation strategy with the team (yet again!), Steve called me directly and said:

“I know this is the first deal you’re handling by yourself, and I’m sure there are lots of eyes watching how you perform. I want you to know that I will do everything I can to ensure you’re successful. And don’t worry about the costs. We will deliver this transaction on budget, no matter what that means for me.”

In a few sentences, Steve made a client for life. I’ve spent a lot of time in the intervening years dissecting how that conversation moved me from being a satisfied client to a fiercely loyal one. The secret, in a nutshell, is to step into your client’s shoes. Instead of getting annoyed by my oversight, Steve evaluated the situation from my perspective and realized that my budding reputation was on the line. Then, he acted on his insight by focusing on putting me at ease rather than rehashing the deal.

First, Find Out Who They Are

Stepping into your client’s shoes sounds simple, but it requires significant knowledge and awareness of them. Here are five questions you can ask to get started.

  1. Who are your competitors? Asking clients about their industry signals that you want to understand their business. Use the responses to set up Google news alerts for each competitor, and follow up if you learn something about a competitor that may raise legal or business issues for your client. Following their industry demonstrates an investment in their success.
  2. What’s the best way to contact you during the day, in the evening and on weekends? Effective communication is central to treating your clients the way they want to be treated. By asking upfront about the kind and frequency of communication clients prefer, you avoid awaiting an email response from a techno-phobe or bothering a client with phone calls when they prefer emails.
  3. What issues keep you up at night? Like you, clients are busy and have long to do lists. Those open items will shed light on their priorities. Also, the wide range of potential answers (both personal and professional) makes this question a powerful tool for forming a deeper rapport.
  4. How would you describe your company culture? To make great decisions from the client’s perspective, you must understand how they do business. Are you stepping into trendy, designer heels or conservative loafers? For instance, if their company prides itself on a team culture, you might err towards including the full team in communications about a matter instead of only updating the main contact (after asking question number two, of course).
  5. What two things could I have done better? The best business is repeat business. Hopefully your work and approach inspire clients to seek you out again. To increase your chances, it’s valuable to solicit specific, constructive feedback at the conclusion of each matter. Asking for feedback will show that you value the client’s input. Graciously receiving the remarks and later notifying the clients about how you are acting on their commentary will cement a strong, long-term relationship.

Stepping into our clients’ shoes forces us to put clients first and it reminds us that our work isn’t just a series of matter numbers. The young parents who engaged you to write a will aren’t concerned about tax codes; they want to sleep comfortably at night, knowing that their new baby will have the care she needs. The in-house counsel who didn’t return your call last week is supervising a “bet the company” trial. Challenge yourself to see your client’s side. It’s always nice to have a new pair of shoes.

This article is written by Precious Williams Owodunni and was originally posted in Attorney At Work.

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