What does Excellence in client service mean?
In very simple terms, it means (wildly) exceeding a client’s expectations.
But the contra, and exclusively lawyer focused message, is to manage the client’s expectations, which is a euphemism for making sure that they do not expect too much.
The transaction is a simple one: pay us for the time we spend on your matter. Note I said time and not value. Excellence doesn’t come into the equation. How many firms have you seen who have had an Excellence charter or had very explicit wording to cover what a client can expect. Most are so woolly as not to be worth the paper they are written on.
Most firms state something like: “We offer the highest standards of service” and then proceed almost in the next breath to talk about complaints handling. This almost suggests that the client can expect poor service or that the firm is so used to dealing with complaints that it is better set up to deal with that than it is to deliver WOW service.
Can you imagine going to a dentist or a doctor’s surgery and being told after every appointment that if you want to complain that you needed to follow a certain road map? Or to go to a retailers and see a placard with the words: “Not happy with the service then complain…. and you can get your money back + some big fat compensation”. Surely all this is doing is pre-loading the relationship to expect the worst.
Sure, things go wrong, people are dilatory or worse still treat the customer with disdain but don’t make such a big deal of it. Focus on the positive an enshrine Excellence in everything that you do from the state of your toilets (yes these are very important), the colour of the flowers in reception, to the quality of stationery that you use.
Now, don’t get me wrong, in some instances clients have completely unrealistic or quixotic expectations and, worse still, don’t understand the time/cost metric. When it comes to settling up they are nearly always surprised at what you are proposing to charge them. It is tempting to tell the client following each call, email or missive that that has cost them £x, but we defer from doing so for fear I suspect of looking stupid. That said if each client had on-line access to their account then they could see at a glance how much was on the clock and what had been done..
I wonder also how much is spent at looking at the number of cases a solicitor takes on. In my view one of the reasons that things go wrong is because the person concerned is not being properly or adequately managed and they have too many files to cope with or the wrong type of work. When it comes to managing work-flow the overriding concern is not Excellence or providing the highest standard or service but how much money can be made. How many live files do you manage at any one time: 100, 200, 300? Whatever the number ask yourself the question whether you have provided the very, very best service that was humanly possible. Stop thinking about the costs but just whether that client was treated as if you only had one client and all your time was focused on that one person/company/NFP.
For me this is so important right now bearing in mind the increased pressure that is emerging in the market. In the same way that smaller businesses have had to look for ways to compete with their larger brethren, Excellence will always shine through and not just provide a beacon of hope but may be the difference between remaining in business and going bust.
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