Consistency of client service not just for Fantasyland

Kenneth Grady, The Daily Record Newswire

Go to a Disney theme park and you will understand the client experience. From the moment you touch their world until the moment you leave it, Disney wants you to have a uniformly high-quality, distinctively Disney time. A guest’s experience isn’t just about the rides; it’s about everything.

Disney is famous for having standard operating procedures that cover all elements of its theme parks. Employees have instructions on how to dress, walk, talk, interact with guests, and even pick up the trash (e.g., costumed “cast members” should use the long tools with claws at the end rather than bend over). While everything may not always go exactly as Disney plans, clearly the company understands the importance of controlling the guest experience.

Think Disney theme parks are too far removed from the law to be relevant? OK, let’s talk about hotels. Hotels are service businesses, as are law firms and law departments.

Even budget hotels try to deliver a consistent guest experience. They control how the lobby looks, interactions between guests and employees, what your room looks like, and so on. In fact, hotel chains advertise the guest experience as they try to guaranty that your visit to Hotel X in Tampa will be the same as your visit to Hotel X in San Francisco.

Hotels spend lots of money studying and refining the guest experience. For example, did you know that most guests form their impression of a hotel not when they check in, but when they enter their room?

At the other end of the spectrum, unfortunately, are law firms and law departments. Not only do most lawyers fail to give their clients consistent experiences, they give their clients random experiences.

From the moment a client touches the legal world, whether it is a businessperson talking to the law department or a law department lawyer talking to a law firm, that prevailing randomness stretches from smaller things, such as who answers the phone, how it is answered, and how messages are conveyed, to larger things, such as the quality of clauses in documents. Similarly laid-out documents can look remarkably different if coming from different sources due to the wide range of clauses employed by attorneys. Procedures vary from lawyer to lawyer, practice group to practice group, and city to city.

Put simply, it would be easier to catalogue the small number of ways in which departments and firms deliver consistent experiences than the myriad of inconsistencies.

Most lawyers I talk to about this oddity brush aside the criticisms. In their view, interacting with a lawyer is all about the deep insight and lawyerly advice the client receives, not trivialities around the experience. What matters, they say — sometimes the only thing that matters — is the advice. The waste isn’t in all the variations in client experiences, they contend; it’s in trying to make all client experiences consistent.

At one time that may have been true. When someone went to see Louis D. Brandeis for advice, he wasn’t concerned about consistency of the total Brandeis experience. Today, however, competition for clients and service expectations differ markedly from Brandeis’ time.

Don’t fool yourself into believing that general counsel and other sophisticated clients will fail to notice that your firm cannot even standardize the language of routine documents among lawyers within the firm.

Clients — and I mean all clients of law departments and law firms — expect much more. They have been conditioned through their experiences with other service organizations and their consumer experiences to have higher expectations. This conditioning means they expect high-quality websites, documents, consistent user experiences, and so on.

The client experience goes further. If lawyers don’t know how to use common software packages, clients get frustrated. When lawyers raise hurdles to getting things done because they don’t know how to use the tools at their disposal, modern clients get frustrated.

Why? Because they don’t have to deal with those frustrations when working with other professionals. Each hurdle to dealing with a lawyer increases the amount of energy a client must expend to get something done.

In simple terms, today’s lawyers must make the client experience a priority. In not-so-simple terms, that means starting from the first point of contact with a client and mapping out each touch-point between the lawyer and client until the matter is completed. That approach gives the lawyer a snapshot of the current state of the client experience.

Rather than using a broad, open-ended survey about the customer experience (also known as a feel good survey), lawyers need to get specific about the client experience at each major touch-point. What annoys clients and what does the firm do that stands out?

The results of surveys and client interviews will show lawyers how to proceed. In some cases, the existing experience can be improved. Doing so should involve a team that includes not only lawyers, but other professionals as well.

The goal is to set up processes where the client experience at major touch-points will be consistent from experience to experience, whether that means multiple encounters with one lawyer or experiences that stretch across many lawyers and related professionals.

Many attorneys think their monopoly to practice law insulates them from competitive forces. As the industry changes, they are witnessing that insulation wear thin. Fixing the client experience often is one of the easiest and most visible ways a legal services organization can differentiate itself and gain client appreciation.

Ignoring the client experience is a step toward irrelevance.


Kenneth Grady is a “Lean Law” strategist with Seyfarth Shaw and an adjunct professor at Michigan State University’s College of Law. The above column originally appeared in SeyfarthLean Consulting’s Seytlines blog.