I just finished a terrific article by Joel Henning in the January/February issue of Executive Counsel.  Joel’s article is “Law Firms and Great Hotels.”  He relays his conversation with Ellen Dubois du Bellay, Vice President for Learning and Development of The Four Seasons, generally acknowledged to be at the forefront of outstanding customer service.  One of the many things that struck me was her statement that “our service excellence is based on making sure we have the right people to start with.”

That is a pretty easy thing to say–most businesses and law firms would say the same thing.  But Ms. Dubois du Bellay then explained how every single person hired by The Four Seasons, regardless of position, interviewed at least 5 times.  The last interview is by the General Manager of the Hotel at which the person will be employed.  This means that the General Manager of every Four Seasons Hotel or Resort interviews every maid, every waiter, every bellman.  Joel (ever the master of the understatement) then writes: “I know of very few law firms that explore the attitudes of job candidates as thoroughly as The Four Seasons.”

Most every law firm website pays homage to the idea of client service.  A prospective client who wants to know if the firm is walking the walk or simply talking the talk would do well to ask if the law firm cares as much about client service as The Four Seasons.

I am reminded of a conversation with my friend, Gerry Riskin.  Gerry was talking about his time as a Managing Partner of a law firm, and he recounted how he thought that one of the most important interviews he did was for the receptionist, since she had more client contact than any one else in the firm.  I wonder how many other Managing Partners make it a point to do as Gerry did.

We have a lot to learn from businesses like The Four Seasons.  More to come.