What Gets Confused for Good Customer Service?

By John Strohmeyer

Clients aren’t hiring your firm because of its immaculate furniture, monogrammed glassware, and mid-range gallery art.

 

There are three things lawyers tend to confuse with service: the technical aspects of legal services, the physical aspect of legal services, and hyper-formalism. Let’s talk about each of these.

First, the technical aspects of legal services are not the same as customer service. The lawyer’s product is their knowledge of the law, and the ability to effectively counsel clients on how best to resolve a situation. While this is a service, it’s not customer service. Legal advice is the technical product clients are paying for—the service product is how that technical product is delivered.

Second, the physical aspects of the business—such as marble flooring, solid wood furniture, or fancy artwork—often get confused with client service. These physical aspects do influence how the client perceives the firm, but anyone can spend a fortune on decorating without improving the client’s experience. These environmental niceties are part of what’s expected at a higher-cost firm, but they don’t help deliver the product to the clients.

A fancy hotel is not fancy because it has 7,000 count thread-count sheets, premium mattresses, or the shiniest faucets. That distinction is based on the service provided to guests, and how easy the staff makes it for the guest to enjoy the hotel. That is the mindset you’ll need to bring when designing the service experience at your firm.

Finally, many attorneys steer too hard into hyper-formalism when addressing a client, mistakenly thinking that it displays their technical competence. It doesn’t. Now, this is not to say that formality has no place in the legal practice—professionalism will always be part of the business, and a part of the service we provide is knowing the “magic words” that will achieve a particular result. But while using the right tone with clients and maintaining a certain formality is a part of service delivery, it’s important to know just how far this gets you. Merely being formal and observing proper etiquette and diction isn’t the same as service. Lawyers write in a hyper-formalized manner as part of their daily jobs, but that starched language shouldn’t bleed from your court documents into your client interactions..

Now that we’ve dismissed a few things that don’t improve your client’s service experience, let’s focus on things that do.


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