It’s the Little Things People Remember
I am constantly trying to improve the office. I know we do a good job for our clients on personal injury, workers’ compensation and disability cases. However, often our clients have no frame of reference to know whether we did a good job or not. They see the end result, but they don’t comprehend all the things which were done to get to that result. What I have come to realize is that people remember the customer service they received. The experience is just as important as the end result.
Use Customer Surveys
I use customer surveys for all closed files. I want to know how we are doing. After reading hundreds of responses, I noticed a trend. Clients would always say they liked how we kept in touch with them. They liked returned phone calls. They liked the e-mail and letter updates (which are just automated form letters). These are the things they remembered. The little things.
Surveys accomplish several things. First, it tells us the things we are doing right. Are the attorneys consistently receiving favorable ratings from the clients? Are the staff receiving consistently high reviews? My end of the year bonus is partially based on client reviews. These surveys also show me what needs to be improved. One client remarked that my lobby was very cold. I would have had no idea but for the client’s response to our survey. I am able to correct many minor critiques. Occasionally, we have a client who is displeased with an aspect of their case. I can then go back and review the case, the staff responsible for the case and discuss what went wrong. Why as this client not highly satisfied?
How would you want to be treated?
After realizing the importance of the client experience, I decided to take it a step further. I examined every point of contact we have with the clients, from initial phone call to closing the file. How could we improve the client experience? Many of our systems developed over time. We have a set of form letters which go to clients at each stage of the their case. These work well and go out automatically. But, there was room for improvement.
I recently implemented a new policy that I wanted every client “touched” at least once every thirty days. A “touch” means a phone call or letter. For every “touch,’ we change the date of the last “touch.” Every week, I print a list of cases being handled by each person and the last time the clients were “touched.” That gives us a list of who we need to “touch” this week. A simple phone call (or voice mail) which says, “we are still waiting for medical records” or “we are waiting for your deposition next month” is enough. This system avoids clients falling through the cracks with no communication for long periods of time. Clients remember these little things.
I also had a staff meeting and asked, “how would you want a lawyer to respond to your case if you needed an attorney?” It was amazing the ideas my staff came up with when they stepped out of their role as employee and thought of themselves as a client. We quickly implemented several of these ideas.
Clients remember the unexpected things
For better or worse, clients have a negative expectation of hiring a lawyer. Long waits in the lobby. Cramped offices with papers and files everywhere. No returned phone calls. Feeling in the dark about their case. Change those stereotypes. Unfortunately, many of these habits are ingrained in our offices and take a concerted effort to change. But change starts at the top. Make an effort to dispel common stereotypes of attorneys.
First impressions are important
The first personal interaction a client has with your office is your receptionist. Make sure your receptionist greets each client personably, preferably by name. After all, they do have an appointment, right? Keep waiting times to a minimum. We all hate having to wait at a doctors’ office, don’t make your clients wait a long time to meet with you. First impressions are important.
The biggest thing you can do to improve the client experience is to promptly return phone calls. The biggest complaint I hear from clients who fire their lawyers and come to our firm is that the lawyer did not return phone calls. Look at the lawyer disciplinary complaints and you will note that client communication is one of the biggest complaints raised to the ARDC.
Improving the client experience will lead to referrals
All the steps we have implemented to improve our client experience are designed to increase the likelihood of client referrals. Remember, client referrals do not “cost” you anything. There are no referral fees, no advertizing costs, nothing but a full fee. Of course you should send a thank you card for a referral, but what does that cost you? Even if the result is not satisfactory, if the client had a positive experience, it is more likely they will refer you additional clients.
Keep in mind that clients will remember the way they were treated as much if not more than the outcome of their case.