Stephen Fairley 0000-00-00 00:00:00
I do a fair amount of traveling, speaking at bar associations, meetings with clients and holding our two day Rainmaker Retreat legal marketing boot camps (www.RainmakerRetreat.com) across the country. Like many road warriors, I have found many benefits to upgrading my hotel experience. I usually stay at Hyatt or Omni hotels when I can due to their consistently excellent service, but recently I stayed at the Ritz-Carlton® in downtown Los Angeles. Talk about reaching for the next level! As a somewhat demanding business traveler they certainly went above and beyond my expectations. As I sat up on the gorgeous rooftop pool on the 26th floor, I began thinking about how a business can differentiate itself in a highly competitive space, like the hotel industry or in your case, the legal industry. Today's consumer of legal services has more choices than ever before. They vote with their feet. Believe it or not, the majority of decisions on who to continue doing business with are not strictly or primarily financial decisions (the Ritz was sold out all three nights I stayed with them and I'm certain there were cheaper choices available). How you and your staff treat people and how you make them feel makes a big difference in whether they do business with you at all or will return and do business with you later. Here are some provocative questions to consider: • If they were being completely honest, would clients tell you that your firm consistently delivers great value for the money they are spending with you? • Do they believe you sincerely appreciate their business? • How would they rate you on your customer service compared to other law firms? • How would they rate you on your customer services compared to the "Ritz Carlton" in your area (the best of the best)? Recognize that savvy consumers do not compare you to other law firms. They compare you to the customer service they received at every other company they have recently done business with. While every company is busy talking about how great their service is, a large percentage of consumers are frustrated by today's version of "service," especially when too much of it seems self-serving. During my stay at the Ritz Carlton I discovered several keys to their customer service that can be applied to your law firm in helping you fix your customer service or reach for the next level. Systematize the Process. To excel at customer service you must systematize the entire process and train your staff to follow it. At the Ritz I used the valet service to park my rental. When I got out the valet asked me my name, wrote it on the ticket, and handed me a receipt. After my luggage was removed from the trunk he escorted me inside and introduced me to the valet manager, who immediately greeted me, "Good afternoon Mr. Fairley. Welcome to the Ritz Carlton. We are here to serve you. If you should need anything during your stay here, please let us know. There are several excellent plays in town and we would be glad to reserve some tickets for you or perhaps you would prefer a dinner reservation atone of the fine restaurants in the area. Also, we have a complimentary car service that's available to take you anywhere within 3-4 miles of the hotel from 7-I0am every day and 5-8pm.We can also pick you up when you are finished. Do you have any questions, Mr. Fairley? OK, then let me introduce you to Kay who will checkyou in." He walked me over to Kay who said, "Good afternoon Mr. Fairley. I'm Kay and I will be checking you in." She then handed me an envelope with my name typed on the outside and said, "The hotel manager would also like to extend his greetings." The entire check in process was less than two minutes including upgrading me to the 25th floor. Kay then introduced me to Kern who said, "Good afternoon Mr. Fairley. I'm Kern and I'll be escorting you to your room along with your luggage. Is there anything else I can assist you with before we head upstairs?" What amazed me was not how polite the staff was. I expected that, but the use of my name because other than the original valet assistant I met outside who parked my rental, I never told anyone else my name. As part of the customer service system he passed it up the line so each person could greet me by name as they met me. That left a very positive impression! Micromanage the Client Experience. John Bisnar is one of my long-term clients who is truly gifted at achieving excellence in customer service. He is a personal injury and auto defect attorney in Southern California who, I believe, coined the term "micromanaging the client experience." It is a philosophy that drives everything his law firm does. Let me give you just one example: filling out forms. No one I know truly enjoys filling out forms, but almost every law firm makes a poor first impression on new prospects by handing them a wad of forms as soon as they walk in the door. At Bisnar's office prospects never fill out forms.They meet with a "Client Intake Specialist" who asks about their situation, qualifies the prospect and fills out the form for them. John and his staff have analyzed every contact a prospect or client has with the firm and has structured the experience to maximize the client experience. In a practice area as competitive as personal injury it's difficult to stand out.You can't really even compete on price (not that I encourage you to).Yet John's firm has consistently grown every year since he started focusing on micromanaging the client experience. Know Your Clients By Name. Psychology tells us the "sweetest sound" a person can ever hear is the sound of their own name. During the check in process at the Ritz I counted as each person used my name at least twice. It made the whole experience more pleasant and welcoming. I'm sure the repetition also helps them to recall many of the guest's names. Does your receptionist greet your clients by name? Do you even know each of your client's by name? My dentist has a webcam and as each new patient checks in for the first time they ask permission to take a quick photo.This photo is linked to your patient file and whenever you come in for an appointment your photo comes up so they can greet you by name. Brilliant idea, especially for high volume practices! Check In With the Client AFTER the Purchase. Within two minutes after Kern left my luggage and me in the room I received a call from Kay."Hello, Mr. Fairley, this is Kay at the front desk. I just wanted to call and make sure everything is to your satisfaction." "Thanks Kay.The room looks great, but the light in the hallway entrance as soon as you step in the door doesn't work." "Sorry about that Mr. Fairley. Are you planning on going out anytime this evening?" "Yes, I actually have dinner with a client at 6pm." "Great. I'll send the engineer up at 6:30pm so they don't disturb you. Do you already have dinner reservations or would you like some assistance with that?" "No, thanks. We already have a reservation." We all experience it—buyer's remorse—the client gets excited, signs up, then leaves happy to be working with you and somewhere between your office and the next day a switch is flipped and they suddenly no longer want to do business with you. This seems especially true with consumer practice areas, like bankruptcy, family law, and personal injury. What are three ways you can reduce or even eliminate buyer's remorse in your firm? Here are a couple ideas: • Set up a series of new client email auto responders. An auto responder is a series of pre-written, educational emails that reinforces why they hired you, why you are excellent at what you do, and about the legal process they are about to go through. This can be a great way to hold their hand through the process. We recommend: www. InfusionsoftforAttorneys.com. • Send them a thank you note and a small gift. Hand written notes are best (even if it's your assistant who signs them).The small gift can be something simple like a box of brownies or a small bouquet of flowers or even a CD of an interview you did about the top ten questions new clients have; just make sure it's something that says thank you for your business. • Have your staff call them and ask if they have any questions. Many new clients walk out your door only to remember a specific question they needed to ask about or they get home and their spouse asks if they remembered to ask the attorney the one thing they forgot to ask. Or even more difficult, their significant other says, "You agreed to pay how much?! We can't afford that! I was looking on the Internet and found someone for half that price." The same day they hire you I recommend you assign one of your key staff to pick up the phone and give them a courtesy call to inquire if they have any other questions or if there's anything else your firm can do for them. If not, simply have them express thanks for signing up and to remind them to bring in the documents you need as soon as possible. Find Ways to be Flexible. It's not always easy to be flexible in the legal industry, but if there's a way you can accommodate your client's needs or wishes I recommend you go out of your way to do so. For example, instead of requiring full payment up front offer three flexible payment plans. Instead of requiring payment by cash or check, sign up so you can accept credit cards. If possible, offer appointments to busy clients after hours or during the weekend. Not everyone finds it easy to take off a couple hours during the day to meet with an attorney. I know a few attorneys who work with high net worth clients who offer to come to the client's house instead of making them drive to their office. Clients appreciate your flexibility. Train Your Staff to Be a Master of Details. We've all heard that the devil is in the details. I remember the first time my estate planning attorney sent my wife and I a draft of our new estate plan. Talk about a disaster! According to his documents my wife and I were of a different ethnicity, had different last names from each other, and had three kids we didn't know anything about! After I turned to my wife and asked if there was anything she needed to tell me about her past, I sent off a very terse email to my attorney explaining the problems. I know many estate plans are based off boilerplate language and often done by software programs, but he or his staff obviously did not even check the documents nor did they remember to remove his other client's names and identifying information! I'm a huge fan of checklists. They can be wonderful for training staff and decreasing potential mistakes and omissions. What are the major systems that need to have a checklist put into place? Here are a couple ideas for your checklists: •Double check to verify client name, phone and address is correct. •Double check spelling of clients first and last name is correct. •Have payment terms, options and conditions been clearly explained to the client and have they signed something in writing explaining these terms? •Is the amount correct on the invoice? •Is the invoice itemized and detailed enough so the client can easily understand it? •If there is an unusual charge is there a letter explaining what the fee is and why it was assessed? •Did you include the list of documents the client must bring back to our office? •Are all deadlines clearly stated so the client can write them down? •Are the penalties or consequences for missing a deadline clearly stated so there is no excuse if the client misses an important one? • Does the client know who to contact if they cannot reach the attorney? Is their contact information clearly given? Does focusing on the client experience count where it matters most— in client retention and revenues?Yes and yes.John Bisnar reported some time ago that it has allowed him to retain 97% of all personal injury cases that walk in his door. Before he started focusing on the client experience he would get a lot of "qualifying questions" like: Have you ever handled this kind of case before? How many people have you worked with who had this kind of problem? Can I talk to some of your past clients about the results you achieved for them? "Now, the most frequent question we get is, will you take my case," says John. Now that's a question every attorney wants to hear.
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