When a lawyer comes to me seeking to change law firms, sometime during our discussions I ask:

When it comes to legal work, what do you believe is most important for your potential clients?

I believe most law firm leaders know what business clients expect and want from outside lawyers and firms. But, I wonder if law firms effectively use what they know. The vast majority of business clients report:

  • They hire lawyers rather than law firms. What are you doing to develop your next generation of outstanding lawyers?
  • A lawyer makes final consideration based on recommendations, his reputation, and profile. Do you have a plan for your lawyers to raise their visibility and credibility to their potential target market
  • A lawyer gets hired based on his or her ability to connect and generate trust and rapport with the client’s decision makers. Are you teaching your lawyers how to build trust and rapport?
  • Approximately 75% of the Fortune 1000 General Counsel’s are dissatisfied with their present law firm and would replace the firm if they thought any other firm would do better. What are you doing to make sure your client service exceeds expectations?
  • They are generally not dissatisfied with the quality of the work or the hourly rates of the senior lawyers. How are you making sure that clients will value the quality of work done by your junior lawyers?
  • Instead, they are dissatisfied with the lawyers’ lack of knowledge of the industry, company and decision makers, the lack of innovation and the lack of quality service including responsiveness. Do your junior lawyers understand and know the client’s industry? Are you looking for ways to be more innovative? Have your figured out how your clients define responsiveness and do you have a plan to make sure they receive it?

I want you to use your imagination for a moment. Picture a group of your clients meeting and discussing you. What are the 3-5 things you believe they would say about you?

Take a moment and write those things down. Now, think about what you would want them to say about you. Is there a difference?

Many years ago I went through this same exercise. I do not specifically remember what I listed that my clients would say about me, but I do remember what I would have liked them to say about me. I wanted my clients to say I was:

  1. The leading transportation construction lawyer in the country;
  2. A lawyer who understood their business;
  3. A  lawyer who always put his clients’ interest ahead of his own;
  4. A lawyer who could be trusted to always fulfill the commitments he made; and
  5. A  lawyer who searched for innovative ways to help me achieve my business objectives.

Why did I do this exercise and why should you?

I did it because it changed how I was working with my clients. It helped me focus on what was important to them and caused me to search for ways to become the lawyer I wanted to be.

Let me know what you want your clients to say about you.
 

Have you ever failed to meet a client’s expectations? I can think of no worse feeling.

How do you avoid it? The key is to establish the expectations right from the start. When I practiced law, I met with clients for pre-project planning and did not charge for the time.

Bman interview Bwoman question SS 46707145

If you want to avoid the problem begin each project with a planning session. Here are some of the planning questions for the agenda:

  1. What is the budget for the work?
  2. Does the client expect the billing to be level during the project?
  3. How does the client want the project staffed?
  4. What client representatives will be working on the project?
  5. Are there any time sensitive issues?
  6. How does the client want its bill?
  7. How often does the client want a status report and in what format?
  8. What are the clients goals for the project?
  9. How does the project fit into the overall business objectives and strategy?
  10. Does the client want to take a hard line in the matter or not?
  11. Would the client like to have an extranet site set up for the project documents?

Over years of experience I learned what my construction clients liked and did not like about their experiences with law firms. I decided we would put together a Construction Law Client Service Goals based on what I had been told. After I drafted the document I had several clients review it and offer suggestions. Then I used it in my planning sessions.

Yesterday I flew from Dallas to Denver. I scheduled the flight so I would have 90 minutes before my first coaching session.

Boing on runway
Boing on runway

When I took my seat on the plane, I told my seat mate I had not flown on many MD 80s lately because they are so old they were being retired. (Note: It was not the plane in the photo above.)

More than an hour after we were supposed to take off, the captain announced that the mechanical problem could not be fixed and they were taking the plane out of service. They would bring another plane to a different gate and we would leave from there.

We took our bags, left the plane stood by and 30 minutes later the gate agent announced the new gate. When we got there we waited as the plane was coming from another city fully loaded with passengers. Finally it arrived, the passengers got off, the cleaning crew did its task and we boarded.

Just when we thought we would be under way, the Captain announced the plane had a maintenance issue. Finally, it was fixed and we were on our way over three hours late.

I’m convinced airline employees are taught to say certain things like:

We are sorry for your inconvenience.

We appreciate your patience. (I was one of many who was not the least bit patient. I had to cancel two coaching sessions,)

Suppose you failed to meet a date. What would your clients say if you told them you were sorry for their inconvenience? Wouldn’t it be more than just an inconvenience?

How would they respond if you told them you appreciate their patience?

I am a potential new client. I walk into your office for the very first time. Who will give me the first impression of your firm’s commitment to client service? What impression will I take away?

Since I started coaching lawyers, I have walked into 100s of law firm offices across the United States and Canada. I quickly reach conclusions about each firm’s commitment to serving its clients by my experience with that firm’s professional staff. I bet your clients quickly reach the same conclusions.

I thought about some of those experiences this week when I read a Seth Godin blog: The buffet problem keeps getting worse. You must read it. Here is how it begins:

Here’s the thinking that leads just about every all-you-can-eat buffet to trend to mediocrity:

“Oh, don’t worry about how fresh the mashed potatoes are, after all, they’re free.”

You are not billing hourly for your staff. Does that mean their interaction with your clients is like the mediocre buffet items?

In the blog, Seth Godin describes how successful organizations often beat the competition, by turning the buffet problem upside down. They make sure their “mashed potatoes” are the best ever.

I believe turning the buffet problem upside down, begins with having a dedicated, service oriented team. Since February, 1997, I have been very blessed. That was when Joyce Flo began working with me. If you asked any of my clients when I practiced law, or the lawyers with whom I now work, they will tell you they love working with Joyce.

If you are a lawyer I have coached, you could share many examples. She knows each and every one of you. She recognizes your voice when you call. She knows the status of the project we are working on together. She has helped some of you create awesome slides for your presentations. When you visit us in Dallas, she makes sure you have a remarkable and fun experience here. Most importantly, she makes each of you feel like you are the most important lawyer with whom we work.

I can give you many examples where Joyce provided extraordinary service to my clients. One that stands out was the night in Virginia Beach when, long after I had gone to bed,  Joyce stayed up all night helping one of my best clients prepare their part of a mediation presentation for the next day. My client still talks about Joyce’s great work.

On another occasion I invited 10 client representatives and their spouses for a weekend here in Dallas. We played golf on Friday and went to the Cowboys game on Sunday. During the day on Saturday, the couples were on their own. Prior to their arrival, Joyce prepared a Dallas Travel Guide for each couple and included it with a “goodie-bag” in each of their rooms.  She made their weekend special.

Do you have someone like Joyce making your clients “Raving Fans?” If not, go out today and buy Raving Fans by Ken Blanchard and Sheldon Bowles and give it to your trusty assistant.

When I do programs on client service for law firms I frequently use examples from other businesses and I include my Client Service e-book as the handout materials.

My e-book is filled with stories about my own client service experiences, mostly in hotels. On page 17, you will find a discussion of my creating a “Raving Fans” program for the professional staff in each of our offices. If you are interested, I would be happy to share with you more details you can use to set up your own extraordinary service program.

If you have trouble connecting hotel staff service to law firm staff service, I have a story I have told many times.

When I joined Jenkens and Gilchrist, my client files and books were on rolling bookcases in the hallway outside my office. Late on a Friday afternoon, a young man named Mason came by my office. He said:

Mr. Parvin, I know you need to hit the ground running on Monday. How would it be if I come in tomorrow morning and help you get your files into filing cabinets and your books into the bookcases in your office?

I confess. I was stunned by this young man’s offer. Needless to say he made an impression on me.

If you want to get another great example, watch this video included a video about Johnny the Grocery Bagger.

As you will see, your staff contributes greatly to the experience your clients have when visiting your firm or working with your lawyers.

Just wondering, have you ever let your staff know how important they are to the success of your firm? Would creating a “Raving Fans” program for your staff raise their level of service to your clients?

drive_istock.jpgWhat does the legal profession look like? It is more “client driven” than ever before.  Successful firms will differentiate themselves by:

  • How well they understand their clients
  • The relationships their senior lawyers have with their clients
  • The skills of their junior lawyers and staff and
  • The speed, effectiveness  and efficiency of their services.

Law firms that anticipate client needs before other firms and before the clients themselves, will thrive.

Quality

Business clients expect to pay less and to get more in the current economy. Even so, they will pay more for better, and especially best quality for certain types of legal work. Firms should focus on areas of work where quality makes a difference to the client.

Superlative Service

Zappos has defined client service for other businesses. It is their brand. There are many stories of Zappos extraordinary service. One is known as Tony’s Pizza Story. You can read the story and others at Zappos Milestone: Customer Service.

I read Another Zappos Story just recently about what Zappos did when shoes were delivered behind the customer’s trash can and were taken when the trash was picked up. Your law firm can’t do all the things that Zappos can do to have clients who tell great service stories about you. Yet, there are things your firm can do. How can your firm make client service a hallmark of your culture and provide the kind of service that sets Zappos apart from its competitors?

Bottom Line

You likely know that It costs five to six times more in time and energy to go out and get a new client than it does to maintain an existing firm client. It pays to be focused on client service rather than billable hours. The legal profession is changing rapidly. Clients are reducing the number of law firms with whom they do business. They will focus on firms that understand their industry, business and strategy.

Firms that are in tune with their clients, provide valuable services with highly trained and motivated lawyers, and use technology to improve efficiency; will be the winners. It will be an exciting ride if firms make the commitment and effort.

 

 

 

 

In my experience talking to business clients and from reading surveys, here is what I believe most business clients think:

  • They hire lawyers rather than law firms.
  • A lawyer gets considered based on recommendations, reputation and profile.
  • At some point after the recommendation the lawyer’s website bio is reviewed, a Google search is done either searching the lawyer’s name or the legal topic.
  • A lawyer gets hired based her ability to convey trust she is the lawyer to handle the particular matter and based on developing rapport with the client’s decision makers.
  • They are looking for their lawyer to be a “partner” with them to handle the matter.
  • The General Counsel wants no surprises.
  • In surveys as many as 75% of the Fortune 1000 General Counsel’s have said they are dissatisfied with their present outside law firm and would replace the firm if they thought any other firm would do better.
  • Business clients are generally not dissatisfied with the quality of the work or the hourly rates of the senior lawyers.
  • Business clients do not want to pay to educate first and second year lawyers.
  • Business clients are dissatisfied over the lawyers’ lack of knowledge of the industry, company and decision makers, the lack of innovation and the lack of quality service including responsiveness.

Just imagine if your business clients thought your firm was outstanding and started telling other businesses.

 

Let me tell you a story about customer service involving pizza delivery and share what it might mean for your own client service.

Nancy and I grew up in Lombard, Illinois a Chicago suburb. Unlike many from Chicago, we always preferred thin crust pizza. Here in Dallas it is not easy to find pizza the way we like it, but several years ago we found a place near our home. Over time we discovered this shop not only made great pizza, but also made great buffalo wings. We became regular and loyal customers and told our friends about the shop.

A few weeks ago the shop was closed for remodeling. Then it reopened. On a Friday night we ordered the pizza and wings combo. The proprietor, or whoever answered the phone, advised us that he was the new owner and that our pizza and wings would be delivered in 30 minutes. After an hour we called back. In that call we were told they could not find our order and they were sold out of wings for that evening.

Frustrated, we got in our car and went to a fast food restaurant and brought home chicken sandwiches. When we arrived at home, 90 minutes after placing our order, we discovered the pizza delivery man was in front of our house. We sent him back with our order.

The next day I wrote a review on Trip Advisor and on Yelp. After our negative review, the new owner responded:

Can you give a call this is my cell phone xxx xxx xxxx I would l0ve to talk to you about Friday night. I’m very sorry we just open and I had 4 no call no show!! Can you please call me so I can make it up to you?

I haven’t called. I think it is a little late to make it up to me. I would have felt differently had the new owner called us 30 minutes after we placed our order and shared with us the problem he was encountering.

What is the point for you? I believe you can be the very best lawyer to handle a client’s legal work and still lose their business by screwing up on client service. Clients have an idea on how long it should take to get your work product. You might even tell them to expect to receive it by a certain date. If you do not meet that date, and you do not let the client know what is going on, the client will leave you for another lawyer. It will be too late for you to “make it up to the client.”

Seth Godin wrote a blog recently titled: (What you get) – (What you were hoping for). He said:

Research shows us that what people remember is far more important than what they experience. What’s remembered:

–the peak of the experience (bad or good) and,

–the last part of the experience.

Clients especially remember the peak of any bad experience with their lawyer and they readily share disappointments with other potential clients. It is really scary, but I suspect before long there will be popular web pages for business clients to review lawyers and law firms. What will your business clients say about you?

On Friday I posted: Want Higher Profits Per Partner: Focus on Client Service.

Seems like a “no-brainer.” But,

  • When was the last time you talked about client service at a firm meeting
  • When was the last time you talked to your professional staff about client service.
  • When was the last time your firm did any training on client service?
  • When was the last time you talked to your clients about client service?

BTI Consulting Group surveys reveal that clients are not pleased with the service they receive from their law firms. In a report titled The Declining Client Satisfaction Antidote, BTI reported that 70% of clients will not recommend their law firm to others. According to the report, clients believe their law firms are:

  1. Not keeping up with changing client needs
  2. Doing a poor job of articulating and delivering value
  3. Poor communication between law firms and clients

That means any law firm or lawyer whose service is just slightly better will be unique. Just imagine what would happen to your business if clients gave your firm an A+ on client service?

Here are 10 easily implemented client service actions to improve service.

  1. Be more Responsive. Promptly respond to phone calls, email, and correspondence. Keep your client informed
  2. Be a team player. Figure out ways to help the in-house counsel or other client representative succeed.
  3. LISTEN to not only what is said, but how it is said and what is not said.
  4. Make personal visits. You will learn more things that will give you the business context of the legal matter. You might even bring home a new file.
  5. Bill with clarity, accuracy and based on value. Clients resent paying for inefficiency.
  6. Keep your team together. Clients do not like “breaking in” lawyers who do not know their business.
  7. Get feedback from clients on how you can improve your service and respond proactively, including preparing a client service policy.
  8. Make sure you understand the technology that is available to better serve your clients.
  9. Understand the clients’ industry, company and the needs of the individual client representatives.
  10. Seek to uncover potential client problems, opportunities and changes and develop solutions to handle them.
  11. Provide client service training your lawyers and staff and make client service an agenda item at every firm meeting.
  12. Read books on customer service from other industries. You might start with Joseph Michelli’s book about Ritz Carlton service titled:  The New Gold Standard.

Help me. Have I missed anything that you would add?

If you are a regular reader, you read Client Service: Sometimes You Have to Be Available 24/7 and know that I traveled to New York last week. After leaving the Apple Store at 11:30 PM I checked in at a small luxury hotel in the financial district. It was near the law firm office where I did two presentations. In many ways the hotel was outstanding. My room was large with wood floors. One magazine called it “the coolest hotel in the financial district.”

Coffee Hot.jpg

When I woke up in the morning of the presentations I went downstairs for breakfast. The restaurant was so small that the hostess was also the waitress. (For all I know, she could have cooked my meal.) The first thing I noticed was the paper napkin. In a luxury hotel that is “the coolest in the financial district,” I guess I expected a cloth napkin.

During my meal, my coffee became lukewarm. I asked the hostess/waitress to warm it up. When I got the bill, I noticed I had been charged for two cups of coffee. There was nothing on the menu to advise me and the waitress did not tell me I would be charged for a second cup. In my many, many years staying at hotels, I have never once been charged for a second cup of regular coffee.

I wasn’t bothered by the room cost that was well over $400 for the night. I would expect to pay that amount in the financial district of New York. I was pleased with everything about the hotel. But, it was the unexpected $3.00 for a warm up of my coffee that I will always remember and I will tell friends who ask me for hotel recommendations in New York.

How do these little things apply to lawyers? I believe most business clients are surprised to come to a law office and find lawyers dressed in business casual. I believe those businessmen and women expect their lawyers to dress like lawyers. So, dressing in business casual is the equivalent of a paper napkin in the hotel restaurent.

Far more importantly, clients get very, very upset when there is a surprise in their bill. Sometimes the surprises are big things and that should never happen. More often it is the little things.

You should never surprise a client in the bill. If there is anything that could possibly be a surprise, you should alert the client before the bill goes out and discuss it.