Sunday, September 5, 2010


Growing up in a small Midwestern town (see "Virden, Illinois") instills in a person certain practices, ranging from mundane (talking about the weather) to absurd (saying “hello” to other drivers when your windows are rolled up) to reclusive (declining help from, or otherwise bothering, other people).

Shedding the first two habits can be achieved by relocating early in life, but the aversion to imposing on others is a burden that chases many to their grave.

Consider this: At a restaurant, the hostess seats you next to the kitchen, despite vacant tables in more pleasant milieus. Or you notice a rustling in your salad. Or your entrĂ©e is unfit for human consumption. But when the manager comes by to ask “How is everything?” you say – altogether now – “Fine” … and never return.

Your clients may be equally reluctant to complain. That doesn’t necessarily mean they’re happy with you; just that their displeasure hasn’t reached critical mass.

It may be up to you to invite them to complain. Otherwise, the next time they need a lawyer or recommend one, they may think of someone else.

The good news: Inviting clients to complain is easy. A benign question – “How are we doing?” or “Can you think of any ways we could serve you better?” – should do the trick (but beware of “fine”). There’s a good chance that they’ll praise you, or make a suggestion that you could easily implement. Even if they are more forthcoming than you would like, letting them vent is bound to have a salutary effect, and you may have a client for life.

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