September 2005

I’ve posted on this before, and I don’t think repeating myself is necessarily a good thing.  But I was on a conference call yesterday, and I was reminded yet again why anyone who uses a speaker phone with a client is playing with fire.  Fortunately, I was not on my speaker phone, but another outside lawyer was, and he was rambling, making it impossible for the General Counsel to make his point.  When the lawyer stopped to take a breath, the GC said, “John (not his real name), do you mind if I say something?”  John, still not catching on, said “sure go ahead.”  Which elicited this withering comment: “As long as I’m paying for the call, don’t use your speaker phone again.”  Point taken.

I spend a lot of time at O’Hare Airport.  So I spend a lot of time at the bookstore in Terminal 3.  And I happened to run across Jeffrey Gitomer’s Little Red Book of Selling.  It was nicely packaged.  It looked small enough to read on my short flight, so I bought it.  I have to admit that I don’t know who Jeffrey Gitomer is.  He may be huge in the marketing or selling field, but I don’t know who he is.  I bought the book on a lark.  I am glad I did.

There’s not a lot of what I would call “new material” in the book.  But he packages good messages better than most, and reinforces some important lessons.  Since I just posted on passion a week ago (less than a week before I bought the book), I found these statements particularly compelling:

Passion is the fulcrum point of selling.  No passion.  No sales.

And this one:

If you’re not on fire, you’ll lose to someone who is.

Passion is not everything, but there is nothing without it.

Brilliant post by Bruce MacEwen in his Adam Smith, Esq. blog (one of my must read blogs).  Drawing on a story in Barron’s about the creation, rise and dominance of Lexus in the luxury car market, Bruce hypothesizes about a law firm following the same model:

The Lexus story is the story of an outsider challenging entrenched incumbents by providing something customers would respond to even though the incumbents thought it vaguely beneath them:

  • a reliable,
  • quality,
  • “perfect” customer experience
  • without exotic styling, over-the-top luxury touches (the new Rolls Royce has an umbrella holder built into each rear door; need I say more?), or blistering performance.

Now, imagine an AmLaw 50 firm deciding to emulate Lexus.  The mantra switches from things like “best of breed,” “biggest deals,” and “your most arcane problems solved” to “quality,” “reliability,” and the “perfect” client experience.  Not “the exotic, the ne plus ultra, head-turning guaranteed,” but “here for you, solid, always dependable.”

Do you think clients would flock to this largely unoccupied positioning?  Wouldn’t it be fascinating to watch someone try?

I, for one, would love to.  But unlike car owners who routinely turn over their vehicles every few years, inside counsel build relationships and many are loathe to experiment with new relationships, just as they are loathe to try alternative billing and other other “cutting edge” changes in the relationships between clients and their law firms.  I hope that resistance is lessening and I hope Bruce’s hypothesis turns out to be on the money.

For those of you outside Chicago, this won’t resonate quite as much. 

The lead story in both papers today is that Federated has decided to replace the venerable “Marshall Field’s” name with Macy’s.  The only story that would cause more consternation is the relocation of Wrigley Field to the South Side.  But there is a silver lining in every story.  The silver lining in this story is Dawn Turner Trice’s column in today’s Chicago Tribune.  The lead paragraph tells you exactly what you’re in for:

Renaming Marshall Field’s indeed is a boneheaded move.

But, beyond the cachet a name carries, what stores have to offer that’s far more valuable is service. No–good service.

Good service trumps a venerable name any day. It’s what keeps consumers coming back year after year, and it’s what eventually gets them waxing nostalgic.

Truer words were never typed.  Ms. Trice goes on to talk about her experiences at Field’s and contrasts them to her experiences at one particular “big opulent department store … along Michigan Avenue not far from Tribune Tower” (Nordstrom’s, folks).  She compares her Field’s experiences (where she feels compelled to say “thank you” and wondering if she should add “You appreciate my business and I hope I’ll come again soon” with the sales people at Nordstrom’s “seem forever at the ready to help you navigate the acreage.”

The moral of the story comes in Ms. Trice’s last paragraph:

 The new owners of Marshall Field’s are counting on brand-loyalists one day forgiving them for changing the store’s name to Macy’s. And that may happen.

But the grudge consumers hold about not-so-good service is far more difficult to shake. 

As a Chicagoan who gave up on Field’s long ago (in favor of Nordstrom’s), I would like to thank Ms. Trice for validating my feelings on service and for providing a fabulous example for those of us who believe service counts for a lot.
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Monday night football.  Nike commercial.  An old coach tells a young player: ” A man thinks he can.  Another man thinks he can’t.  Both are right.  Which one are you?” Personal expectations.  Passion for success.  An insane zeal for excellence.  Harry Beckwith, author of the book “What Clients Love,” writes in his July newsletter that:

It started on a visit to Microsoft. I entered Building 26 of what were then 28 on the seemingly endless Redmond campus, and felt something. I realized I had felt that before.

It had come on a visit to Nike, years before, on my first of many visits to pick up some prototype shoes which they had me test in the early 80s. Nike employees were passionate. That feeling was so intense, in fact, that when their director of marketing Rob Strasser left Nike to assume the same role at rival Adidas, most Nike employees, when they would see Rob approaching on a Portland sidewalk, would cross to the other side to avoid him.

I felt that fire in Milwaukee, too, when I entered the headquarters of Harley-Davidson.

These companies share a palpable trait: passion.

Beckwith goes on to note how Jim Collins and others have focused on the same trait:

Jim Collins has seen it, too. In Good to Great, he concluded from his diligent research that great companies focus on whatever they can do better than anyone else, on that which drives them economically — and about which they feel truly passionate.

Two other professors — a group more inclined to focus on process than feelings — noticed it, too. In their influential 1994 book Competing for the Future, Gary Hamel and C.K. Prahalad observed that every successful company must articulate a statement of strategic intent that “contains pathos and passion.”

So these really smart guys all believe that passion is critical. Who am I to argue?

The challenge, it seems to me, is identifying what it is that each person is passionate about and melding the items of passion into something of value to clients. 

Do clients, in turn, look for passion?

    I read somewhere that McDonald’s does not deal directly with companies that manufacture its cups.  Instead, it has a “cup company” handle all of its cup issues, including purchases.  The reason, as I recall the article, is that McDonald’s is not a cup company and dealing with cup issues, prices, etc. is not a core competency.  It deals with a company for which such issues are a core competency.

    “Fascinating, Pat,” I can hear some of you saying, “but what the heck does this have to do with the practice of law in general and client service in particular.”  A lot, actually.

    First, check on “The Cisco Way” in this month’s ABA Journal.com.  It is a story, on one hand, about a client driving change in the way its outside counsel work.  I’ve long believed (and written) that major changes in the profession occur on a widespread basis only because clients demand the changes.  But beyond that issue, think about opportunities created by this change.  Mark Chandler, the GC of Cisco, states in the article: “In the past you would say, ‘I hope there’s one firm big enough to do it all for me.  Not anymore. Now technology lets you pick and choose and bring together the best in each area.” There’s a focus on being best in an area. 

   If you want to play with the big dogs, you’re going to have become a “cup company.”  That is, a firm so good at something the big dogs need that they are better off turning to you to do it.  But I believe it goes beyond just the big dogs.  Mid-size and even smaller companies will have to access themselves whether the return on their legal service dollar is as high as it should be.  Is it cost-effective for an inside lawyer to do everything, even if he or she doesn’t have the background, experience or training for certain things?  Or will the company be better off if the inside lawyer focuses on the areas where he or she can provide maximum return and outsource the rest of the legal department function?  The McDonald’s “cup company” concept has a place at the table for a lot of businesses.

 

Those who have read this blog before know that I have great admiration for Gerry Riskin.  Another reason to admire Gerry and his work is his post entitled The Power of Positive Expectancy.  Here’s the concept:

What if this is true (and, by the way, it is):

“If you expect your clients to be thrilled with your services – they will”

“If you flat out expect your clients to refer business your way – they will…”

“…Have you ever found yourself so excited about a … service that people [retained] you because they almost had to?”

Set the service bar.  Expect that clients will be thrilled with your service.  Ask them if they are.  If they are, raise the bar (because expectations will grow!).  If they are not, ask why, fix whatever didn’t work right, and raise the bar (because you have to deliver more on a second chance!).

I was in my local pharmacy the other day and dropped off two prescriptions.  I needed to be at my kids’ school in thirty minutes.  I asked how long it would take to get the prescriptions filled.  Fifteen minutes, I was told.  I decided to wait.  Fifteen minutes passed, and my name wasn’t called.  At twenty minutes, I went up and asked how much longer.  “Just a couple of minutes.”  To cut to the chase, I ended up leaving without my prescriptions, mad as hell and vowing to take my prescription to the other local pharmacy next time to see if they had any greater concern for my time.

Not a big deal, but a nice reminder that most of the time, its not how long or how much that is important, but rather setting expectations that you either meet or exceed.  If I could find a good picture to go with the “underpromise and overdeliver” mantra, I’d have it framed and hanging in my office.

Ernie the Attorney has provided some truly amazing insights into life for those who lived through Hurricane Katrina.  In the context of my blog, I was struck by this post on the letter Ernie received from Google.  Read Ernie’s post.  The letter speaks for itself.  It’s a good example of a company thinking about its customer’s needs and reaching out rather than waiting to hear from the customer.