Sadly, most of my worst customer experiences a come from my a preferred airline. It’s sad because I fly. A lot. You might think that being an elite flyer for the past 15 years might count for something, but then again airlines are not exactly known for the wisdom of their customer service.
Earlier this week, I checked in at the airport. I had a middle seat on a flight to Los Angeles. Four hours of hell, so I asked to purchase a bulkhead seat. The attendant before security said only the gate personnel could help. When I arrived at the frequent flyers club, they said the bulkhead seats were available, only they could help only 50 minutes before the flight. They explained that prior to that time, the seats were for sale. No problem, I’ll buy one now. Except they can’t sell them. They have to be bought from the machine that dispenses boarding passes. But that machine refused to give me the option to purchase the seat.
Clint Eastwood’s word for this is “clusterf–k.” He is so eloquent and so right (Most of the time.)
So I tweeted the airline. The Rhodes Scholar that replied said the seats were held for chose needing assistance. That would be great if I wasn’t being told the seats were for sale. He tweeter then told me I had to be at the airport. Duh, try again. Then I was told “the airport can help you.” Really yay? The whole airport? The pathetic, ineffectual effort to help only served to anger me more (this is the genteel translation).
There is a moral to this story. Help needs to be simple. And it needs to be effective. Not to mention understanding. Airlines are really bad at this, but there is no reason they have to be. Great customer service may require a DNA transplant, but good customer service is simply about using your brain and making the effort.
Scott Curran, the Deputy General Counsel of The Clinton Foundation (yes, that Clinton Foundation), was this year’s first guest speaker at Valorem’s “Lunch With a Cool Person.” The mug presented to Scott confirms he is, in fact, a “Cool Person.” Scott was incredibly gracious with his time and his insights and ideas, and my Valorem colleagues and I are ever so grateful.
One great takeaway that Scott left was how the Clinton Foundation makes the most of its meetings and events. The Foundation is action-driven, so every event ends with commitments by each person attending to do something. What happens if they don’t do what was promised? They can’t come back. Apparently the former President has called some close friends and told them they would not be able to attend a major event (perhaps the Clinton Global Initiative?) because the person has not followed through as promised. The result? People follow through.
I can’t tell you the number of conferences I’ve attended where promises were made and, for the most part, not kept. I think the Foundation’s approach is inspired, and I thank Scott for such a great take-away.
When I was a young lawyer, one of my first disputes was with a partner who asked me to proofread his brief. Presented by the phrase “true and correct copy”, I dutifully struck the words “true and correct”. We fought over that edit–I lost. But I have never been willing to sign my name to that phrase. I was just presented today with a settlement agreement that contained the phrase and my earlier encounter replayed in my mind’s eye.
Here’s the thing. A document is either a copy or it is not. Have you ever seen an untrue copy? An incorrect copy? What is a true but incorrect copy? Or an untrue but correct copy? I’ve never been able to figure that out.
Maybe you can tell–one of my pet peeves. Sorry to burden you.
I received an email from Michael Rynowecer of BTI Consulting which provided an interesting insight. There has been a number of reports about large law firms losing market share and otherwise performing poorly. Michael’s email reported that the BTI Client Service 30—the best—actually gained market share in 2012, and did so at competitor expense.
But here’s the real insight:
The most impressive are the 4 firms in The BTI Client Service Hall of Fame – each of whom remain on The BTI Client Service 30 for more than 10 years – Jones Day, Morgan Lewis, Sidley Austin and Skadden – all market share gainers.
The reason this note about the performance of these four firms is important is that their presence in the Hall of Fame in indicative of a culture of client service. The importance of being market gainers is that there is financial benefit from great client service. Clients like working with those who understand their business, the demands of their job and work to make the client’s life easier.
The FlatFeeIP blog fits into Valorem’s wheelhouse: it addresses the importance of value fees in IP litigation, particularly patent litigation. That is what Valorem does–litigation for fixed fees–so it only made sense for our patent guys to team with Dave Bohrer, the blog’s publisher. Today is my partner Manotti Jenkins‘ innaugural post–Why Samsung Losing Its Appeal Is Not Such A Bad Thing: Another Perspective. Take a look. Let me know what you think.
As I walked around my yard on Saturday, I realized that our decision to change landscapers was ill-advised. I hadn’t seen our account manager since the first walk-around in early April. This caused me to think back to our former landscaper (who will be rehired, mind you) and the things he used to do. This was all occurring in the aftermath of a discussion with a prospective client about transparency. It made me realize that my former landscaper was not only a great landscaper, but also a model for the New Normal.
There are some easy differences between my current and former landscaper. The former guy always told us in advance what a project or application would cost, as well as the benefits of doing it and the cost, both short and long-term, of not doing it. Our old landscaper would regularly stop by the house when he knew we were home and ask us to walk the lot with him so we could identify things they had done that we liked or did not, areas that we thought they should focus on, developing problems and so forth. Maybe 15 minutes in all, but it really made us feel like he was concerned about our lawn. In contrast, we haven’t heard from our current guy since April. Not good.
Our old landscaper responded to email the day we sent anything to him, and he would give us notice when the guys would be there to service the lawn so our dogs were inside. Our current guy, not so much. Who would have thought that communication with a yard maintenance guy would mean so much?
I wondered how our experience translated. On Angie’s List, our former landscaper has a large number of very positive comments and is rate “A” in every category except price, where they are rated “B”. Our current landscaper does not fare as well. While his grades in the price category are an even mix of “A” and “B”, his grades in the other areas are basically “B”. The written comments suggest the frustration we feel is shared. We don’t dislike our current guy enough to fire him mid-season, but we won’t be back. We will, instead, return to our former but higher priced landscaper with a feeling that paying the higher cost is worth it.
There are obvious lessons for firms that care about quality service.
When I was a young associate an eternity ago, my firm held an internal seminar on developing new business. Almost every associate attended, with pen and notebook ready to write down the means by which riches would be obtained. The top rainmaker stood up and said, “The best source of new business is…..” And then he waited, a long time really, until the silence was so acute you could hear the proverbial pin drop. After a suitably long pause, he finished “….old business.” Ta-da! We all looked on in stunned disbelief. How would new business from old business help any of us become rainmakers? In point of fact, it wouldn’t. At least not then.
That lesson, which pops into my head ever time I deal with the phone company, the cable company, and all those other companies that give better deals to new customers than they do to old customers, has served me well over time. There are so many firms or lawyers that put much more effort into winning new clients than they do into making old clients happy. They are missing the boat. Old clients not only can give you more business, they are (or should be) your best source of referrals.
The moral of the story? People are going to focus on new business–it is a part of our DNA. But do not do so at the expense of ensuring your current clients. Indeed, it is essential to make sure you are capable of wow-ing current clients before shifting focus.
One of the things that happens during boarding on most flights is that people carry on telephone conversations that are impossible to ignore. I used to feel a sense of guilt about hearing what they were saying, but lately I’ve concluded that if they are foolish enough to speak loudly in front of so many people, the speakers must want us to know what they are saying. And there are so many lessons to learn.
On a recent flight to San Francisco (en route to Medford, OR), a woman was complaining to her friend about her treatment at the hands of TSA. Complaining at length. They were disrespectful and rude (oh, the irony) and she would never be returning to Chicago as a result. She had enjoyed her time in Chicago immensely, but this one negative experience outweighed all the good ones.
Since the flight was long and I forgot to bring reading material for the times when electronic devices had to be turned off, I reflected on other stories I had heard that shared this theme. One bad encounter, one bad event, ruining an otherwise positive experience. There are all too many similar stories.
Since this is a blog about client service, it should be pretty clear where I’m going with this. Clients are people too, and their experiences with your firm are more than just their experience with you. You might want to take some time to list all the different “touchpoints” your client has with your firm, and then assess whether each of those experiences is a strong positive one, every single time. If not, you’ve just identified a project list.
In many speeches, I have urged in-house counsel to pool their pricing information since doing so, and making it public, would create targets that competitive law firms would try to beat. I believe that price transparency, which clients have within their power, will have the single largest effect on lowering prices and increasing value. But there does not seem to traction for this in the corporate world. The same is not true in the individual consumer world, thanks in large part to the entrepreneurs at AttorneyFee.com. It was my great pleasure to have lunch with Richard Komaiko and BeiBei Que, two of the team behind the business. It was refreshing to see two enthusiastic business persons with a great understanding of their market and how their business can make an impact. AttorneyFee is making fees for basic personal legal services like estate planning, real estate, basic criminal work, bankruptcy or debt relief and other areas transparent in a number of markets. I think this is a great tool in this area. I can only hope that once they conquer the area of personal legal services, the principals at AttorneyFee bring their innovative thinking to the corporate legal world!
I woke this morning wondering whether I would experience the best of America in my lifetime. Certainly, the way we are as a country now is not our best. I thought about how we have divided ourselves into red and blue states, harkening back to a time when the states were union or confederate. Not our finest hour then, and not now either. We have gone from a country where people live free to one where different groups exist solely to make others live like them. Neither side and no group in our current political climate can claim the high road: all are in a win or die, you’re with me or you’re the enemy mode. Maybe the days when people of principle compromised to move toward agreed goals never really existed, but it seems like we used to be more like that. I don’t mean to suggest that there are not principles for which support should be resolute and unyielding, but certainly every principle is not like that, and it is not weakness for people to recognize that their particular issue is not one of the few issues where support must be unyielding. Will there ever be a day when the “aisle” that separates the parties in Congress becomes less important than the things that join us together? Will there ever be a day when it is less important how others practice their religion that my ability to freely practice mine? Will there ever be a day when our response to ideas we don’t like is not to condemn the speaker but to show the weakness of his ideas? Will there ever be a time where we are not red or blue, but instead are red, white and blue? I wonder. I hope.