While it may appear obvious that treating our clients well should be a priority, too few of us actually take the time to consider what that actually means. We forget that clients have expectations regarding how they will be cared for, and that merely completing the task at hand may not be enough. While clients appreciate vigorous advocacy on their behalf, they also want to be treated well.
In today’s competitive legal market, it can be a struggle to distinguish yourself or your practice. While many firms have joined in the cost wars, nearly pricing themselves to extinction, too few have considered the value of improving the client experience. Attorneys who are able to provide superior client services, in addition to exceptional legal services, are better able to separate themselves from the competition. Consequently, those attorneys who actively look for ways to improve the client experience can thrive, even in a tight legal market.
Regrettably, many attorneys seem to feel an underlying hostility when it comes to addressing their level of client service. Many appear to be under the mistaken belief that providing superior legal services is enough. If you are a truly exceptional attorney, they would argue, you needn’t worry about mundane things like customer service. Too many also believe that an emphasis on “client service” is below them, and that worrying about the client’s experience relegates them to the position of those who merely sell “things.” People are engaging us, they would argue, because of our superior intellect. It is not necessary for us to be likeable as well, or for the experience to be agreeable.
The New Market
Unfortunately, for today’s legal providers, the market has changed. The public, thanks in large part to the proliferation of internet commerce, increasingly views most products as interchangeable commodities. More than ever, we are comfortable buying from any number of potential vendors. Further, we have come to expect a superior product. What now overwhelmingly influences our decision is the value of our experience. Too often, those of us in the legal profession seem to operate under the mistaken belief that individuals behave differently when contracting for legal services, and that the factors they consider before working with an attorney are entirely unique from the factors that influence other purchases. This is not the case. Today, even large well-established firms are often perceived as offering excellent, but comparable, legal services. Consequently, those of us who desire to thrive in the current market must be willing to embrace the benefits of improving the client experience.
The numbers don’t lie. A full 86% of consumers have admitted that they quit doing business with a company because of a bad customer experience. More troubling than losing an individual client based upon a bad experience, however, is the fact that we tell an average of sixteen people about our disappointing business relationships. In a profession where reputation plays such a significant factor in our success, we can’t afford to ignore the client’s emotional needs.
Attorneys are not alone in the degree to which we bury our heads in the sand. According to “Customer Service Hell” by Brad Tuttle, a full 80% of companies surveyed said they deliver “superior” customer service. In reality, only 8% of the individual respondents thought that these same companies actually delivered “superior” customer service. This is hardly surprising, given that for every customer who bothers to complain, twenty-six others remain silent. Too often, we aren’t aware of the client’s view of the process, and we never bother to ask.
I recently had the potentially awkward experience of telling an attorney, who I had engaged on an earlier project, that I was planning to use someone else’s services in the future. This attorney politely ended the conversation, and never bothered to ask me “why?” While it saved both of us the discomfort of discussing the sources of my displeasure, he learned nothing from the experience. My disappointment came largely from matters that had nothing to do with his legal prowess. Unfortunately, I’m fairly confident that many of his current clients are likewise experiencing these same frustrations.
The Rise Of Better Customer Support
Ultimately, all of this is good news for those attorneys who decide to actively respond to their client’s emotional as well as legal needs. Today’s client has learned to expect superior customer service. They are also happy to shop around to get what they want. In fact, three in five Americans (59%) said that they would try a new brand or company for a better service experience. With seven in ten respondents also indicating they would be willing to spend more with companies they believe provide excellent customer service, there has never been a better time to focus more attention on improving the client experience.
Here at Winston & Strawn, we have renewed our focus on improving client relationships. Associates are learning to recognize the degree to which their interactions and attitudes affect the firm’s reputation. Likewise, partners realize that it is not enough to be exceptional attorneys. Overall, the firm has recognized that in today’s competitive legal market, responding to the emotional needs of our clients isn’t just the right thing to do, it makes good business sense.