Secrets to Optimal Client Service from Jim Donovan — University of Virginia School of Law

Author: zmzlois


Be responsive. Available. And take a position. Pause when you speak.

7 min Read

They said he is the most charming guy in Goldman Sachs. This article includes outlines of his speech as well as my personal notes on implementing them.

Original video

1, Never use Jargon

No matter how you practice jargon in school or with colleagues. Don’t use them. They’d lose interest, be confused and resent you.

Personal notes: I tried to tailor my pitch to different audiences and put into consideration of their background — proven to be effective. I never mention a single word about what tech stack we use. It shouldn’t matter to them. The core of any client pitch should be “How will I help you save time, money and resources” or “How will I help you make more money, make money faster.” Nothing else matters. Explain it like you are talking to primary school kids.

2, Pause when you speak

  1. When you speak to a prospective client, you are likely nervous and speak super fast, but pausing will calm you down and help you be less nervous.
  2. When you pause you create a vacuum.
    Create an empty space where clients will likely ask questions or comment on your pitch. It will help you create a dialogue, which is what you need.
  3. Change power dynamic.
    Clients by nature have more power. Pausing creates uncertainty. And that shifts the dynamic in your favour.

Personal notes: I usually pause between bullet points when I deliver a public speech. If it is a longer pitch people are likely to lose focus, so I’d carefully observe the crowd, and when they lose attention I will pause before a short sentence, cautiously, tap in my palms for at least 3–5 seconds and look at everyone — it’d make a short sentence incredibly powerful. I received this advice from Tara Majumdar and Diana Robertson (They are fantastic public speaking coaches!) and used it in my TEDx speech. It requires mental strength and a lot of practice — the mindset in your head should probably be, “I am the queen. Listen to me. Get your fucking brain back.” Use a pause to express this thought without a single word.

3, Look for opportunities to give clients advice contrary to your interest

For example: when you and your firm only get paid if this deal goes through, but if it is best for the client not to close the deal, say no.

Personal note: I use this a lot too. Add a bit of analytics and explain it in detail why it is in their best interest not to do so. When I come from nowhere and no one knows me — this is one of the best ways to establish my credential with strangers.

4, Ask open-ended questions

Avoiding questions lead to an yes and no answer that starts with “Are you …?” or “Is it…?” But ask “What are you worried about?” “What’s your biggest concern?” “Why did you start this company?”

  1. Get clients to talk more.
    People love talking about themselves. It makes them like you more if they are open to talking more. The more they talk the more they’d enjoy the meeting and would love to see you again in a positive way.
  2. Learning more about the client will help you do your job
    It will help you understand their job, life and interest — and it will help you do your job better.

Personal note: Standard training I have received from my consulting days — let them talk. Face-to-face> calling > texting. If you are on the call, lead the conversation with agenda but ask open-ended questions. For prospective clients and you worry if you annoy or disturb them — if they don’t hang up the phone, let them continue. Lead the call, and end it appropriately within a reasonable time. Don’t make it last more than 30mins if nothing important.

Also I like to ask questions in a passive-aggressive way, essentially don’t ask but state some cold facts — “Well, if it is abc, then xyz. A lot of xxx do abc.” And pause. It’s a powerful technique and they will continue to comment on that fact without feeling interrogated.

5, Be positive

Be upbeat. Never show your personal difficulty. It’s not related to them. Let them know whenever they talk to you, you are always in a positive, good mood.

You are hired to solve their problem. You are not hired to make friends with them. Don’t force your problem upon the clients.

Always, always… be positive!

6, Be careful mixing business with social activities

Jim never mixes business with social life. If you do, make sure you draw a red line. Social skills never contribute to your career success. Being a good sports player, good sales, and good smoother don’t make up for a long-standing career. None of them matters. Clients hire you because you are smart, you work hard — you can do the job. They don’t hire you because you look fancy or bring them to expensive dinners.

So be smart. Work hard.

Personal note: If you are a female, or female founder. Draw a line. Red line. A lot of guys are out there looking to exploit you because you are female and you do need a lot of help — and they know it. So use it to your advantage and don’t make it become your weakness. Many of them are sweet talkers: don’t let sweet talk deter your focus and sweet talker won’t put much effort and lead it towards anything serious.

You should know what you want. And you deserve more than sweet talk. It’s fine to flirt, create an interesting dynamic or whatever serves your business interest. But other than those — don’t mess with people related to your business. Unless they are sincere and looking for something serious, long term and you both feel like this can work after open communication with clear boundaries. That’s time-consuming in itself. So the best — don’t do it. It doesn’t matter how you feel and how strong the chemistry is. If you do — think about how many red flags you can see in yourself and others. I don’t see any point in doing it. Don’t waste time.


YOU’D LOSE RESPECT AND POTENTIALLY — REPUTATION IN BUSINESS. If someone winks, or touches your ass or any body parts — that’s an alarm and you should be careful. It’s ok to put in small revenge if they overstep the boundary.


If after everything you have done and they continue to do what they were doing — drop them. There are plenty of people out there. You don’t need to waste time on someone who doesn’t generate results/revenue with efficiency and good business acumen. Personal relationship wise: you don’t need someone who messes around at the workplace.

7, Be humble

Genuinely appreciate the client’s hard work and results.

Personal notes: Your personal achievement means nothing if you can’t do the job. Don’t brag unless it is necessary.

8, Be responsive and available

Tell your client upfront, immediately — they are important to you. Also, tell them you will be available whenever they need you. When they call you, call them back immediately after you are available. When they email you, email them back as soon as you can. When they text you, text them back as soon as possible.

You may not have answers immediately, but tell them “You will find the answer and get back to them.” It doesn’t matter. Respond. Immediately. Let them know you will get the answer.

It’s particularly important at the early stage of the relationship. Give them a good first impression. Same as relationship — first impression would determine 70% of how this deal will go.

9, Take a position

Clients hire you to tell them what to do. Don’t equivocate. Don’t back out. Don’t be nervous. They want you and your firm to tell them what you know and what’s best.

Personal note: Mix your expertise, and use it with the advice “find opportunities to advise clients what’s contrary to your interest”. I found it generates good results.

10, Control the meeting


Don’t let clients or anything interrupt it. Don’t let them go off-rail and diverge the meeting. If someone asks you a question and it’s not related to your topic, your response should be something like, “Great question. I will get back to that in 10 mins.”

Don’t let them sidetrack. If you do, you will do a bad job; you won’t deliver the meeting in a way you’d like; you won’t cover all the material you prepared — the clients will suffer and you will suffer.

11, Have an agenda and write things down

Walk into a meeting with an agenda. Tell clients upfront “This is what we will cover today. One..Two..Three.. Does that make sense?” So no one is wasting time. Make sure everyone knows what’s going on. Ask “Does that make sense?” You want the clients to buy into the agenda at the very beginning. If the clients want to add anything or remove anything, go ahead and do it. If the clients buy into the agenda, they will buy into the content of the entire meeting.

And write things down. It doesn’t matter if you have a photographic memory or others — write, things, down.

  1. It’s endearing to write things.
  2. You want the client to know you won’t drop the ball. You want them to know you won’t forget anything you told them you would do.
  3. Recap at the end of the meeting and let them know the next step
    Let them know this person is in control and this person won’t drop the ball. You don’t want your clients to be anxious about what will happen. Let them know you are responsible and reliable.

Personal notes: Another standard training I received from my consulting days — have an agenda and it doesn’t matter if it is a 5mins call, 30 mins call or 1-hour meeting. Share the agenda upfront, understand if it is in their interest, and have clear actions for the next step.

Client meeting Photo by charlesdeluvio on Unsplash

Ending Notes: What I found interesting is combining these with the customer onboarding process of digital products. Digitalise them but maintain the same powerful effect.