How the Wrong Client Experience Can Turn Clients Away for Life

In a recent post, Susan Cartier Liebel wrote about the importance of the client experience, and how a great client experience has the potential to transform your clients into “evangelists for you and your services.” I couldn’t agree more. As both an attorney and a potential client, I know how a bad client experience can affect the success a law firm.

That said, for legal consumers, deciding which attorney to hire can be confusing. Any number of factors can influence a potential client’s ultimate decision. And as we all know, many considerations are taken into account by someone looking for an attorney: background, competence, accessibility, experience, location, rates and fees, comfort level, etc.

While some of these can be measured, ultimately the consumer’s decision is a subjective one, as people’s values and priorities are unique to their specific needs, tastes and preferences.

These days, a bad client experience has the potential to reach a wider audience. The Internet, and sites like Yelp and Avvo have eliminated geographic barriers for complaints. Clients can broadcast their dissastisfaction across multiple channels, from social media to listservs and even YouTube. By way of example, I’d like to share a story I told on my own blog back in January.

Before I became a lawyer, I was a computer programmer. At the time, I had recently purchased my first house (townhouse, actually), and I had very little knowledge of how escrow accounts worked. The closing attorney was referred to me by a family member. He seemed nice enough at the time, and the closing itself went smoothly. But when I reached out to him with a question three or four months later, he spoke to me in a flustered and impatient tone that I still remember today. I can still hear his brusque reply to my question about real estate taxes: “Sir, the money is in escrow.”

In hindsight, I fully admit I was confused about how my real estate taxes would be paid from my mortgage escrow account. And maybe it’s not common for first time real estate buyers to follow up with the closing attorney with a question or two later on down the line. But was it really such an inconvenience for him to provide information to me in a way that didn’t leave me feeling like I was accusing him of some kind of omission or taking up too much of his precious time?

Of course, that was almost 15 years ago. Clearly, the legal landscape looked much different 15 years ago than it does today. Between the slow economy and the technological advancements that have made legal services more accessible to the public, it’s not as easy for professionals to exhibit a perceived contempt for those asking “stupid” questions. Needless to say, I have never referred anyone to that attorney, and never sought out his services again.

More recently, my wife and I had a very positive experience with the attorney who did our estate plan. As new parents, our most important consideration is protecting our children, and one of the qualities we looked for in an attorney was relatability.

After getting references for attorneys in our state, the person we chose was not only knowledgeable, but importantly for us, she was also personable. Every interaction we had with her was pleasant; she answered all of our questions thoroughly, respectfully and with a genuine level of kindness that we truly appreciated. Unlike my own experience 15 years earlier, I have already referred some of my acquaintances to her, and would gladly do so again.

So the importance of good customer service and a personal connection should not be discounted when dealing with clients. No matter how long you have been practicing, be mindful that your clients could very well become “evangelist[s] for your legal services.” But they surely will not do so if their customer experience is less than positive.

Legal clients deserve nothing less than quality services performed by a competent attorney who values the importance of the customer experience.

While “the right client experience can make clients for life,” the wrong client experience will likely do the opposite.

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