There’s a breakfast place I just love in my neighborhood.
They make amazing eggs Benedict and offer real, fresh squeezed fruit and vegetable juice. But every time I go there, I swear it’s my last. Food is horrendously late (if your order was taken at all), nobody brings tableware, items are spilled, forgotten, and the whole ordeal lasts an average of two hours.
Great food, bad service.
There’s a difference between high-quality work, and high-quality delivery.
“One lawyer in a large firm relates the following anecdote: One of tour competitors [in real estate transactions] makes it a common practice to get a copy of the deal into the hands of their client within twenty-four hours of the closing of the deal. We think we write better contracts with more protection for our clients, but there is no denying that their clients are impressed. We are told they have a better reputation for quality of service than we do.”
“One firm believes it provides better technical service, but the other firm provides a level of service that is perceived as superior by clients. Why the disconnect? A failure to manage a client’s expectations at the very beginning of the engagement. A miscommunication about the level of service and diligence put forth by the firm. A failure by the firm to understand the client’s needs and desires.”
High-quality work is defined by the caliber associates and partners at the firm, the level of innovation, and attention to detail, to name a few. One of the worse outcomes for high-quality work is poor execution or delivery to a client. Bad service, as with the restaurant I love, can often serve as the sole determining factor for a client’s return to your firm.
Luckily, service is an area that can be taught and improved more easily than work product.
Explain delays. Lawsuits are long, and unexpectedly so. One of the first things a customer wants explained is delays. “Where’s my waitress? What happened to my order?” When aspects of the case are delayed, or your firm is late in providing documentation to your client, explain why. In the above example, explain why your contracts are not available within twenty-four hours. Find out what deadline your client has in mind and then work out a compromise. Before ending the conversation about outstanding work, ask:
What other information can I get to you while I’m working on this?
Understand expectations. Another disconnect between attorneys and their clients are expectations. At the start, ask your client what he or she expects from your legal services. Draft an action plan that fulfills these expectations–e.g., a monthly status report or weekly phone call, for example. After every status report, make yourself accessible. Leave your direct contact information, and also ask:
Does this [document/phone call] answer all your current questions?
Be patient. Sometimes attorneys have to repeat information to their clients (luckily, many in the profession enjoy hearing themselves speak!). Just like a good waitress or waiter who has explained the drink menu for the tenth time amid countless other waiting, impatient tables, it’s important to take your time with each individual customer. Days are stressful and full at a law firm, which is exactly why that extra second of attention to a particular client will be well received in terms of the good service award.
This time, ask yourself:
Does this client really understand what I’m saying?
And, if the answer is no, break it down, go over the information again. Retaining more happy clients and gaining a superior service reputation will be the “tip” your firm receives for going the extra mile.
At the last second before leaving my favorite breakfast place (with the dismal service), the hostess always gives me a warm smiles and says, “Come again!” Her positive attitude is the lasting impression I get before saying to myself, “I think I will,” every time.