Will Your Client Someday Say: You’re Dead2Me?
In the stress and pressure of practicing law in an increasingly tough market, good customer service is often one of the first things to go. Calls aren’t returned, updates aren’t posted, emails languish in the inbox — it’s easier to push these non-billable things to one side while focusing on getting the work done. This happens all the time, and clients become increasingly and vocally frustrated when it does.
From what I’m told, about one-third of clients would like to switch lawyers, in large part because of poor service. Most of them don’t, however, because of the hassles they know they’d have to go through as a result. Their lawyers sense this, and they let the relationship languish or even fester until the client is ready to walk out the door, and only then rush in with the care and attention the client wanted in the first place.
Lawyers who’ve fallen into this habit should consider this cautionary tale from the wireless industry. Ivor Tossell at The Globe And Mail recounts his struggles with getting service from telco providers in Canada’s duopolistic cellphone market. How he responded to those struggles contains a warning for lawyers as well.
One day, I was cut off after an unhelpful call for the umpteenth time. I took the preferred recourse of the 21st-century consumer: I pitched a fit online. I did it on Twitter. I told my story and threatened to leave the company in favour of a small provider. If no one else, the folks who monitor Twitter for any mentions of their company heard my threat.
Miracle! In short order, not one but two representatives of the Other Phone Company contacted me, offering to do what their customer-service wings had staunchly refused to do: take responsibility for untangling my case and see it through to a conclusion.
Call us, they said, and we’ll sort this out. I refused. And this is why: in the bizarro-world of Canada’s big telecoms, good customer service is the last thing they offer. I mean that quite literally – good customer service is chronologically the last thing I was offered.
These companies all but force me to have a bad relationship with them. To get service, I have to threaten, hang up, walk away, cajole, do all kinds of things I don’t like doing.
A relationship should not be built on the premise that after unspecified mistreatments you can always make it up at crunch time. It should not be marked by an escalating series of destructive, attention-getting manoeuvres punctuated by diving for your partner’s feet as he walks out the door.
If you really want to stand out from the increasingly large, noisy and aggressive crowd in the lawyer marketplace, remember this: great client service is a competitive advantage. Most of your rivals, statistically speaking, are doing a lousy job of building and maintaining powerful client relationships, creating a risk to their businesses disproportionate to the productivity they gain by ignoring repeated cries for attention. You can exploit that gap in the market.
Respond to every client request in a timely fashion, even if it’s just an acknowledgement that the message was received and a promise of a response within a specified period. Send monthly updates on every file, even if just to say there’s nothing new, and probe your client for questions or concerns at that opportunity. Invest in systems that will allow your clients to enter a secure website and check the status of their file and the current status of fees 24/7.
In short, pay attention to them, not when they’ve reached the end of their rope with you. Great client service has to be the first thing you offer, not the last. Lawyers who fail to recognize and apply this lesson will eventually learn that that there’s nothing worse than getting a “Dead2Me” message from an irreparably disillusioned client.