Legendary Service for Your Clients

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By Gerry Riskin | Feb 20, 2014

by Gerry Riskin

How can you become an indispensable source of value to your clients? Here’s a simple and implementable blueprint for success…

As far as I’m aware, it’s no crime to offer such extraordinary legal service that clients become addicted to it. While it may be beneficial for some other industries, adding nicotine to the fee accounts or heroine to the agreements will do nothing to enhance the dependency of the client upon you and your firm.

Only one ingredient will and it’s not on any restricted list. It is, simply, “legendary client service.”

Why bother with this “legendary client service” rigmarole? Benefits abound! How many minutes would it take a meeting of you and your partners to fill five pages of a flip chart with concrete examples of the benefits that would accrue to you and your firm if you were known for providing legendary service? Shall I help (so you can kick-start the discussion in your own conference room)?

If you were known by your clients and prospective clients for providing legendary service:

  • Would you get more or fewer referrals from existing clients?
  • Would clients be more or less likely to pay your bills?
  • Would clients be more or less likely to complain about:
  • the amount of your fees;
  • the quality of your service;
  • the time frames involved;
  • the outcome?
  • Would you more likely or less likely to be sued for malpractice?
  • Would your clients be more likely or less likely to appreciate you?

Well then…if the benefits are obvious, why is legendary service so rare? Our profession is fraught with barriers and obstacles that discourage and dissuade from providing what we all know would be beneficial. Even though there are notable exceptions to every single one of these challenges described below, most of us as lawyers fall prey to a good number of them. Almost everything about the practice of law preempts legendary client service:

  • Lawyers are trained in the law — not client relations (sorry…that means too many of us behave like geeks and not enough like caring providers).
  • The billable hour is so sacred that non-billable activities are denigrated;
  • we starve the client relationship in favor of getting another hour billed.
  • Lawyers believe clients are focused only on solutions (we therefore get to the challenge at hand without worrying about optics).
  • Clients are really focused on effort (we conceal most of ours).
  • Lawyers bill in unimaginative ways — hours-based (so we frequently either under-bill or over-bill).
  • Clients will happily pay fees commensurate with the value of services offered (which would allow us to “afford” some client relations time).

How do you choose to whom you should provide legendary service? My mother, may she rest in peace, always told me, “put your wife first”…good, sound matrimonial advice. If you want your marriage to last, you invest in your spouse and make him or her your sole focus. When it comes to clients, most of us are bigamists. We simply don’t stop at one! Unless you believe you put all your clients first, then I am going to take a further risk and advocate discrimination. (Don’t worry, this sort of discrimination will not even offend the most politically correct.)Some may assert: “Nonsense! One must put all clients first.” I do not yet understand all of the principles of quantum mechanics physics and therefore the multiple universe theory may support the notion that all clients can be first. For those who can execute this notion to perfection, my unqualified admiration. For the rest of us, we may need to narrow our focus.

To the mortals in our profession, I suggest that we prioritize a little…we have to decide who to really put first. This may be partially a dynamic exercise similar to a hospital emergency room — the patient seen first is not a function of comparing that patient to the universe of patients but to the other patients in the emergency room at that instant. Most law firms don’t have ambulance entrances (no cheap shots, please). Nor do we have nurses trained to embarrass us by discussing our most intimate concerns with the reception area (well, most of us don’t, anyway). In the practice of law our patients tend to be manifested by a creature called “File.” Electronic or paper, this creature is a surrogate for the client with amazing powers. The right file can cause physiological changes to us just by looking at it — tighten our stomach muscles, raise our heart and respiratory rates — just by catching our eye as we sweep a look over our credenza.

The file most resembles the emergency room patient when the client represented by the file deigns to phone or e-mail or fax (or if Neanderthal, write). When this occurs, one might be required to do an on-the-spot assessment like our doctor friends. However, between such “emergencies,” we might consider prioritizing our clients this way (feel free to shuffle the list — it is your judgment call, not mine — but I hope the criteria might be helpful:

  • Clients who have the capacity to give us future work.
  • Clients who will enhance our reputation simply by being associated with them.
  • Clients who have the kind of work that forces us to continuously learn.
  • Clients who are in industries we enjoy serving (and know something about).
  • Clients who can afford to pay for the value we give them.
  • Clients we like.

We might exclude those who are the corollary of these, including clients who feel it necessary to test the limits of ethics and propriety on every file. The clients who do not make it to your legendary service list should be treated well — but they may not deserve of you the time and effort that it takes to really make them “first” (like your spouse), or, if you prefer to think of it another way: if they were children, which of them would you adopt?

How can we practically provide legendary service? Now that you’ve narrowed the field to those who you are going to “spoil” you need to commit to spending some non-billable time on doing just that. Here is the starter list of seven (7) ideas that you can modify or add to:

1) Visit their place (even if an airplane is required).

2) Ensure your team knows the names of client’s key individuals.

3) Institute a rapid response procedure;

  • Someone on team responds in 1/2 a business day maximum,
  • Client gets pager/cell/emergency contact options.
  • Send regular status reports in the form preferred by the client.
  • Listen to the client to determine such preferences and others.

4) Learn about the industry of the client;

  • Subscribe to client’s preferred business publication and read it (just one),
  • Attend client’s preferred industry seminar (just one annually),
  • Have client in to teach you about his/her business.

5) Talk fees and fee arrangements and guarantee satisfaction.

Don’t think too much and act too little! If this article has suggested a few ideas worth considering, it remains worthless unless and until you “execute” one of the ideas (just one) that appeals to you personally.

Don’t close the page on this article until you have thought of at least one thing you are going to do as a result of reading this. When you have done that, you have joined the ranks of winners. Like Tiger Woods and Estee Lauder, they are not famous for what they have thought, they are famous for what they have done.

Gerald Riskin, B. Com, LLB, is a former managing partner and a Principal of Edge International, a global consultancy serving many of the world’s most prominent firms: riskin@edge.ai or +1 202 957 6717.