Harry Beckwith’s Invisible Ink column for July had some interesting thoughts worthy of consideration. First, Harry noted that 80% of surveyed companies said they delivered a “superior experience” to their customer. The customers, on the other hand, said 8% of companies delivered a superior experience. This gap, which Harry (and others) label The Lake Wobegon Effect, exists with the delivery of legal services too. Survey after survey confirms a similar gap in perception between lawyer and client.
Harry defines The Lake Wobegon Effect thusly:
Humans are prone to Overconfidence Bias: we consistently think we are better than we are. That assumption, and the complacency it encourages, explains why companies everywhere are failing to satisfy people’s growing demands.
Harry also notes that the comparison clients make is not to your competition but to the best service providers. Again from Harry:
Customers do not measure companies like yours against your competitors. They measure you against the best providers: Jet Blue, Starbucks, Federal Express and Four Seasons Hotels. If a coffee shop staffed by kids overcharging us for coffee can deliver a superior experience, customers have decided, why can’t everyone?
Harry provides some suggestions, which are worthy of consideration, essentially taking small steps to be sure you are moving and involving the “alphas,” the top executives.
Here’s my question: Why does The Lake Wobegon Effect exist among lawyers? We hear frequently that we are hyper-critical, tend toward analysis-paralysis, etc., but I’ve never heard that we are bad at those things. Instead, our whole life’s orientation is toward being good at those things. But if we’re at all good, how can we be so blind as to think we are providing an exceptional service experience when the ultimate judge of that issue has determined that we are not? Is the answer simply that we are only good judges of reality when we look outward? Or is it that our skill is really in the world of the hypothetical–“this might not work because”–rather than in a more concrete setting?
What’s the answer for a firm wanting to know if it is really providing the best possible client experience? At this point, it seems clear that an external judge is necessary. But one not afraid of delivering bad news.