I do a lot of traveling, speaking at bar associations, meeting with clients and holding our two-day Rainmaker Retreat legal marketing seminars across the country. Like many road warriors, I have found many benefits to upgrading my hotel experience.
When I can, I make it a practice to stay at a Ritz-Carlton. As a somewhat demanding business traveler, I find they consistently go above and beyond my expectations.
During my stays at the Ritz, I have discovered several keys to their customer service that can be applied to your law firm in helping you fix your client service or reach for the next level.
#1: Systematize the Process. To excel at customer service you must systematize the entire process and train your staff to follow it. At one of my first Ritz stays, I used the valet service to park my rental. When I got out of the car, 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 at one of the fine restaurants in the area. Also, we have a complimentary car service that’s available to take you anywhere within 5 miles of the hotel. Do you have any questions, Mr. Fairley? Ok, then let me introduce you to Kay who will check you in.
He walked me over to Kay, who introduced herself and handed me an envelope with my name typed on the outside. She said that 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 valet, 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!
#2: 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 Chase, 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.
#3: Know Your Clients By Name. Psychology tells us that the sweetest sound a person can ever hear is the sound of his or her 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 clients by name?
#4: Check In With the Client AFTER the Purchase. Within two minutes after Kern left my luggage 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 just 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 6 pm.
―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.
When I returned from dinner, the light was fixed.
#5: 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.
#6: Train Your Staff to Be a Master of Details. 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 of 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.