Everyone wants to be the Best.
“Excellence in Client Service.”
“Staying close to our clients.”
The list is endless.
But, in this scramble for the High Point of hyperbole, how many firms really do put the client at the centre of the firm?
Lawyers exist to serve. Period.
Of course, that has to be balanced against running a profitable firm. But to what extent does the weight of client service become subsumed with other, competing demands?
For a lawyer in private practice, there is an inherent tension between providing the highest level of service and the need to serve the partnership. Getting the balance right is hugely problematical.
The metrics that govern a firm are focused on the hard numbers: chargeable hours, W.I.P. and fees delivered. They are not focused on a ranking for Excellence in client service (the Soft stuff!). If that was the case then perhaps a way of addressing the issue would be to give the client the opportunity to:
a) pay what they thought the service was worth (see Valorem Law);
b) allow for a scoring system out of 100 where the less marks received by the client the bigger the discount on the bill (perhaps for every 1 mark dropped the client received 1% off of the bill); or
c) provide a bonus to the fee earners/partner so that for every mark achieved over a certain amount, they would get an extra £ or % towards their bonus.
It is incredibly hard for each department to work out the optimal number of files for each person to manage. Each client matter will have its own competing demands, but there does come a point where the pressure to bill etc militates against delivering exceptional service. And once you add in business development, meetings and management, you end up resembling a crazed lunatic forever chasing your tail.
The other key ingredient is the level of administrative support. When the recession hit, firms cut deep to the point where most secretaries and support staff now try to cope as best they can with the increasing number of fee earners that they are being asked to type for and support. Throw in the paltry wage increases and general lack of appreciation, and your front line troops are hardly likely to be thrilled to be dealing with one demanding client after another.
Firms need to understand that just because no one has complained does not mean that no one is talking about you. At the very least, firms should set up Google Alerts or consider as many listening outputs as is necessary to pick up both the negative and the positive comments.
Right now firms will be working on the premise that the closer they get to their clients, the less likely it is that they will go walkabout. But if the retail trade is anything to go by, unless your service is so legendary that it defines your brand, clients will not to want to hear more from you if the experience, once cemented, is no better than before. What they want is to be in control of the process and have something that they can manage on their terms and not yours.
At the moment clients are still in the dark about what they can or should expect. But throw in a few price comparison sites, a rating system and personalised search on Google+ and before you know it they will be shopping for the cheapest regardless of what you say or do.
Word of mouth is not the panacea it once was. Yes it is important but you cannot guarantee that clients will go directly to you and even if they do, they may require more than the “client-focused” strap line to make up their mind.
If you are passionate about service, then ask yourself how many clients can you realistically handle before excellence suffers. It will be fewer than you think.
If you can imagine a world where you adopt a preemptive approach to client communication and take the gear stick out of reactive mode, then you will discover just how much value you can add. Telling a client that nothing is happening may seem odd, but not to the client.
Add in a WOW factor where the client is not just pleasantly surprised but stunned with delight and then you might be talking.
If you must keep pressing the client centric message then make sure that the substance is more than the form. Clients are not willing to wait whilst you get it right. The days of outright loyalty are a distant memory. Burn a client once, and they are most unlikely to suffer the same experience again.