Sunday, September 17, 2006

Our Satisfaction Guarantee. Does Your Firm Care Enough To Stand Behind Its Service?

I recall being asked why Exemplar Law Partners stands behind its service with a Satisfaction Guarantee and responding "It's just good business." What I find most interesting about it is that we are one of only two firms in the nation who stand behind their service with this guarantee. The very idea of offering a guarantee is horrifying to most firms because they know that we are a service industry not known for good service and they are afraid of what would happen if they were held accountable for creating a positive customer experience. For whatever it is worth, Exemplar has never had a single customer take us up on the guarantee. That is the kind of statement that speaks for itself. As a service industry, I truly believe that customers should have the right to have a positive experience and hold their professionals accountable for devliering excellence in customer service. Below, let me explain what I believe firms need to do in order to be able to deliver on a guarantee:

1) Hire good communicators or else keep them away from clients: Communication is the tool that we use to build meaningful relationships. This is a relationships business. If you cannot communicate well (and I don't mean argue well) then you are not in the game. Many firms are filled with brain surgeon lawyers with no communication skills whatsoever. In order to satisfy clients, you need to have a team of attorneys who can "communicate" how much they care about the client (not just the law) because "people don't care how much you know until they know how much you care!"

2) Set and adjust expectations regularly: There are few businesses that have the luxury of having such close contact with its customers as the business of law. Professionals often complain about customer expectations being unreasonable. What they are really admitting is an absolute failure to manage their expectations. If they are not manageable then they should not be your clients! In order to have happy customers we have to work with them to understand what they expect of us and make sure that we are able to deliver on those expectations. We also have to adjust those expectations as a case moves along (with good communication). Customers deserve to be informed and deserve professionals who will be honest and candid, rather than macho and illusive. Customers are not interested in paying for your ego, they are interested in getting the results they expect. If firms are ever to have a satisfactions guarantee, they will certainly have to learn to manage customer expectations and adjust them regularly.

3) Be selective about your customers: Most firms just care about whether or not you can pay for their services and not at all about whether it is a good "fit" or whether they can even deliver on your expectations. How do you know? Just ask your firms if they have origination credit. This is a sales commission that pays lawyers for bringing in any client who is willing to pay the fees. It is plain to see that this strategy is all about getting your money to line their wallets and is not at all a customer-centric policy. At Exemplar, we always ask ourselves "can we provide the kind of value you are seeking?" "Do you value what we have to offer?" and, equally important "Are you the type of customer that we want to work with?" We would rather spend our time serving customers that value us and are fun to work with. If you force your professionals to work with customers who are just there to pay your salary, you will certainly not be able to provide excellence in client service.

4) Ask customer what they think and hold professionals accountable. Let me say this again: Ask customer what they think and hold professionals accountable. Yes, that's right, I said hold professionals accountable. Do you think that your law firm holds meetings with each attorney to explain how they can improve in delivering service to clients? So, let me ask you this: This is a service industry, right? If you are a lawyer, you chose to be in this service industry, right? So, it should not sound so unreasonable to expect attorneys to provide SERVICE, right? If professionals at the big firms were being held accountable then perhaps most in-house counsel would not be so disappointed with them. In order to provide the kind of service that you can back up with a satisfaction guarantee, you will certainly need a team of service-minded professionals who have the courage to care and agree to be accountable for results. I don't know about you, but I don't remember a darned thing about what happened at my last doctor's appointment, but I do remember that he didn't waste my time by making me sit in his waiting room for an hour, he returns my phone calls, and I feel that he actually cares about my health. Competent lawyers are a dime a dozen. Layers who care and can show it are one in a million. If your lawyers care as much as their marketing materials claim on their websites, ask them to offer you a satisfaction guarantee as see if they will put their money where their mouth is.

5) Get Feedback, "Learn and Leverage"
One of the most valuable things about the satisfaction guarantee is the opportunity to find out how you screwed up. Most professionals start sweating at the thought of asking their clients where they went wrong or how they can do better. It is as if they are not allowed to be human. Seriously, firms need to have a centralized process for the collection and leverage of customer satisfaction data. A non-lawyer professional should proactively follow up with key customers to find out what works and what doesn't. This leverage can be used to set firm-wide customer service policies that attorneys are accountable to following. To make it easy for them, call it "The Law". Tell them, "the law can change at any time" and tell them to check "the law" regularly for changes and that they can be fined for violating "the law." (They will understand this very well, trust me) When you get consistent feedback that can be leveraged, create or update firm "law" and publish it on your intranet for all to see. Send out a newsletter to your people with changes to "the law". Fine those violators!!! Use the new source of revenue to elevate and reward your good citizens and you are sure to have a compliant society of attorneys who please customers time and time again. After all, your stars should not be the ones with the biggest egos and attitudes, they should be the ones with the happiest customers . . . the ones who keep coming back time and time again.

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