For this week’s Guest Post Friday here at Musings, we welcome Debra L. Bruce. Debra is President of Lawyer-Coach LLC, which provides executive coaching and training for lawyers on leadership and management, team effectiveness, time management, business development and social media. Having practiced law for 18 years followed by coaching for 13 years, she’s in frequent demand as a speaker and writer on law practice management topics. Debra was the first lawyer in Texas credentialed by the International Coach Federation, and served as the leader of its Houston chapter. She has also served as the Vice Chair of the Law Practice Management Committee of the State Bar of Texas and the Chair of the Houston Bar Association’s LPM Section.
Thanks to a Facebook friend, I saw an instructive and amusing example of client service. A mother asked her son to clean the bathroom “like the Queen of England is visiting.” I won’t spoil your fun by telling you what he did. You’ll have to click the link to see. I will tell you that he delivered service that surprises and delights.
When Were You Delighted?
Can you recall a time when you received service that surprised and delighted you? Take a moment to think about that.
The first memory that jumps to my mind involves my arrival for a meeting at the Vintage Inn in Napa, California after a tiring day of cross-country travel. As I unlocked the door and stepped into my hotel room, I heard gentle strains of soothing music. Lamplight and a fire flickering in a fireplace created a romantic mood and warmed me from the chill of the night air. A small table held a complimentary bottle of wine, with glasses and a corkscrew. I sprawled on the bed, and felt like I had landed on a fluffy cloud. The room was no more expensive than what I usually paid on business trips, but this was not my usual business trip experience. When I got home I started planning how I could get back to that hotel.
Another memory concerns a website makeover. After a number of disappointing experiences with web designers who missed their promised delivery dates by weeks or even months, delivered designs that weren’t appropriate for the legal industry, or who were difficult to reach in times of need, I met Luke.
Luke listened carefully to what I wanted and asked clarifying questions. He gave me realistic delivery dates and met them. He met every expectation I had of a web designer. Then progress slowed because I was the bottleneck, and he surprised me.
Luke repeatedly requested the written copy I wanted to include on a page, but I delayed in getting it to him. Finally, one day he sent me a suggested design, complete with copy he had written himself. Most web designers are graphic artists and coders, not copy writers. His draft matched my target audience better than the product a professional copy writer had delivered. I joyfully gave the go-ahead on his design, as is.
(Before you flood me with requests for Luke’s contact information, I regretfully inform you that Luke had the poor grace to abandon me and go to law school. He’s now delivering his star quality services as a lawyer at a big firm.)
The Reaction Evoked
Think about the service that surprised and delighted you. Did you tell anyone else about your experience? Have you referred that provider to someone in need of similar services? Personally, I told both of the above stories to people soon after the occurrence, and a number of times later in making referrals. And I’ve just done it again to all the readers of this blog post.
Tips for Delighting Your Clients
Your clients probably don’t have the requisite expertise to judge the actual quality of your work, but they are experts on how they feel when working with you. To delight your clients, focus on their experience. Take a fresh look at your business from their perspective. (If necessary, ask a friend to come to your office posing as a client, and report to you.) What kind of experience does your organization create?
How does all that work in a law practice or on a construction project? Here are a few aspects that to address in order to optimize your client’s experience.
- Under promise and over deliver. Often clients depend on you to tell them how long your services will take and how expensive they will be. You may try to please them by giving an optimistic estimate. That usually has the opposite effect intended. If you bust your tail to come in on time and on budget, you merely meet their expectations. You don’t delight them. Therefore, when estimating time and costs, add a cushion to it. If an unexpected hitch develops, you’ll have the ability to remedy it and still deliver as promised. If everything goes as you planned, however, you can surprise and delight by delivering early and under budget.
- Make them feel important. Train your staff to call clients by name and communicate that their arrival was expected. Be proactive in providing status reports. Respond promptly to calls and emails, or have a staff member let the client know when you will be available. Give clients your full attention while in their presence or on the phone. Be punctual for your appointments with them.
- Assure their comfort. If possible, choose office space that is easy to get to, with ample inexpensive parking. Send out directions before a meeting and put a map, directions and parking locations on your website. Make the environment as pleasant to be in as you can for them – comfortable and esthetically pleasing furniture and decor, modulated room temperature, refreshments offered, access to wireless internet connections, and so on. For example, I know a lawyer who meets with divorce clients in a cozy room with plush comfy chairs, gentle lamp lighting and several decorative tissue boxes. (His partners call it The Crying Room.) Another one keeps homemade cookies and scented candles on supply. If you’re meeting somewhere like a construction site, at least put down boards so clients don’t have to dodge puddles and uneven terrain to get to you. Crank down the thermostat in summer heat.
- Protect their privacy. Use walls, curtains or screens to keep others from seeing who is meeting with you from the lobby, hallway or parking lot, particularly if you handle sensitive matters. Keep the client meeting area (including your desk, if in your office) clear of documents or project materials pertaining to other clients. If necessary, soundproof walls to keep conversations from being overheard in other offices.
- Demonstrate that they can count on you. Keep your commitments and do so timely. Let them know how to reach you if an urgent matter comes up outside normal business hours. Don’t just wing an answer if you’re not sure. Let them you’ll verify your response and get back to them.
- Empathize. It may be your job to look at a client’s problem objectively, but that doesn’t mean insensitively. Let them know through your words, tone and body language that you understand how unpleasant, worrisome or difficult their situation is for them. Remember the axiom: “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”
- Follow up. After the project has been completed, check back in with your client to see if they have any further needs or questions. Ask for feedback on your services. Is there anything they particularly liked? Anything they would like to see handled differently in the future? How are things going for them now that the matter has been resolved? Is there anything else you can do for them at this time?
Some of the suggestions above may sound like just plain common sense. Unfortunately, many of them are not common practice. That’s why you can surprise and delight if you consistently follow these tips.