Car Mechanics and Lawyers. Who Needs Them?
Just as everyone loves to hate lawyers, I get the feeling that people’s perception of car mechanics is one of mild and grudging acceptance. I always listen with a certain level of suspicion when I bring my car in for servicing, yet I also understand that car mechanics possess knowledge and information that I don’t; nor do I have the time or the inclination to acquire it. So I politely pay for the service and go on my way.
As with car mechanics, lawyers are in possession of esoteric information not generally known to the public. Sure, consumers can scour the Web for “how to” guides, but for the most part, I tend to think consumers appreciate the value that comes with the delivery of services where there are just too many unknowns. And while we might prefer to spend our hard-earned dollars on a nice dinner or a flat screen TV, sometimes it just makes sense to spend that money on a professional, rather than expose ourselves to the unintended consequences of our own shortcomings.
Having said that, we still don’t completely trust every car mechanic or lawyer we meet. That’s why customer service is such an important factor in the acquisition, retention and repeat business of clients and consumers.
I was reminded of this when I recently had my car serviced. Not only was the service performed efficiently, but my interaction with both the garage owner and the technician left me feeling like they truly appreciated my business and were genuinely interested in providing a positive customer experience.
That got me thinking about the kinds of things that lawyers should be doing to attract and retain clients, and how to maintain a client-centered approach in my own solo law practice.
Here are some things to think about before, during and after working with your legal clients:
- Answer the phone with a smile: Whether you answer your own phone or have calls forwarded from your assistant, “Good afternoon. How can I help answer your question?” is much more inviting than “Get to the point. Can’t you see I’m a busy lawyer?!” Even if the person on the other end turns out to be a tire kicker, they will remember your tone and will be more willing to provide your name to a friend who may need an attorney.
- Return calls within a reasonable amount of time: If you miss a call, make it a point to return the call as soon as possible. You may even want to set aside time at the end of the day specifically for returning calls. People understand that sometimes schedules conflict. Taking the time to return a missed call sends the message that you value the caller’s time as well. If the missed call came in after hours or on the weekend, make it a point to return the call at the beginning of the next work day.
- Respond to emails: I can’t tell you how many times friends have told me that their lawyer either doesn’t have email or takes forever to respond. Needless to say, if you don’t have an email account, you should get one. But assuming you do have an email account, if a prospective client contacts you via email, reply as soon as you can, even if just to confirm that their email has been received and you will reach out to them shortly.
- Keep the legal jargon to a minimum: I don’t know about you, but one of my biggest pet peeves is people who speak to me in a condescending tone. Maybe that’s why I could never fully trust car mechanics in the past. And the lack of that tone is probably the reason my latest auto service experience was so positive. As lawyers, we are obviously aware of the fact that our job is to parse the law so that we can competently advise our clients. Inherent in that task, both ethically and as service providers, is that the client understands and feels comfortable with the choices presented to them.
- Follow up with clients even after the work is complete: Sending out newsletters to your former and current clients is a great way to continue to provide value, keeping them abreast of changes in the law and other developments that might be helpful to them. This kind of communication keeps your firm on the former client’s radar should they need legal services in the future.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of client-friendly practices that could be implemented by either a solo practitioner or a small firm. I’ve spoken with and heard about other attorneys who provide free coffee to clients, free Wi-Fi access or the use of a dedicated desktop for internet browsing in the waiting room, send holiday and birthday cards to former clients and even a divorce practice that provides its clients with a tablet so that they can communicate with the attorney and access their client files on their own time.
In any event, attorneys should not overlook the positive impact of good customer service practices and how those translate into a better client experience. A better client experience, in turn, necessarily translates into a more successful business. But if you don’t believe me, just ask my mechanic. I recommend him highly.