An NBC News travel article and a friend's post on Facebook today both demonstrate that excellent client service can make a huge difference in client satisfaction. And that kind of service may also command higher fees.
Both the NBC News article and the Facebook post have to do with the level of service received at hotels and not law firms, but like the legal industry, the hotel industry is a service business, and lawyers can take some good advice from these two stories.
The NBC News article is about the 2013 North America Hotel Guest Satisfaction Index Study, which reports that hotel guest satisfaction is up, even though prices have also gone up. This has been attributed in part to increased staff and better service.
Price Shoppers are Rarely Satisfied
Perhaps most telling, the article reports that the least satisfied hotel guests are the "price shoppers" - those who focus the majority of their decision about where to stay solely on price. By contrast, the most satisfied guests were the "scrutinizers," those who did their homework, researched the property and read online reviews before choosing where to stay.
Hmmm...maybe they're on to something!
While hotel accommodations and legal services are vastly different, the same types of people shop for both kinds of services. Some are strictly deciding based on price. Those people are the least likely to report they were satisfied with their experience.
In the legal industry, just as in the hotel industry, the price shoppers are often the least satisfied clients, even when they get a discounted fee or a 'great deal.' They're often the clients who don't listen, don't cooperate, pay late or not at all, and are the most likely to complain about the level of service they receive.
That could be in part because "you get what you pay for" - by choosing the lowest priced lawyer, they might also be choosing the worst service or the least experienced lawyer. But more likely than not, it is just as much a function of the price-shopper mentality itself; price shoppers may, by nature, be less satisfied, regardless of the level of service they receive.
Informed Clients=Satisfied Clients
Let's contrast that with clients who have done their homework, sought referrals, looked at testimonials, reviewed a law firm or lawyer's website and are making informed decisions about the lawyer or firm they want to represent them in a legal matter based on the lawyer's credentials and experience and on what others say about the experience they've had with the lawyer, rather than just on the fee.
This second type of client is already more engaged in the process, and is, at least to some degree, pre-sold on the lawyer's expertise before they even meet with the lawyer. They're more likely to respect the lawyer's opinion and to be cooperative and proactive. Chances are that will lead to a more satisfactory client experience, even if the client is paying more for the service.
Follow Through On Promises Made
Lawyers be warned: in the same way that review sites and other travelers' experiences shape decisionmaking on hotel accommodations, they are beginning to shape purchasing decisions about legal services. Review sites and online comments about lawyers and legal services may well be influencing your potential clients and their choice of counsel.
Be sure that what is 'out there' on the internet reflects the impression you want potential clients to have about your firm. Include information on your website or elsewhere on the internet about how you work; the client who knows what to expect in advance is less likely to be dissatisfied later - assuming that you follow through on those expectations. Not following through can lead not only to one dissatisfied client, but to a bad review on one of these sites, potentially harming future business as well.
More Interaction Means Happier Clients
Another interesting point uncovered by the hotel guest satisfaction study is that, "...the number of interactions guests have with the hotel staff may have a significant impact on satisfaction. Overall satisfaction is highest among guests who interact with four or more staff types, excluding the check-in staff ..."
Why is this? According to the press release about the study on JDPower.com, Ramez Faza, senior manager of the global travel and hospitality practice at J.D. Power attributes it to "the power of the human element."
Bottom line: When hotel guests interact more with staff - particularly staff in different positions and places throughout their stay, they feel that the hotel and its staff are more attentive, and care more about the guests - leading to greater satisfaction.
Once again, lawyers can learn from this. By keeping clients informed, reaching out to them before they reach out to you with a question or to find out what is happening on their matter, clients will feel more like people, and less like files. And by interacting with more than just "their lawyer" and the receptionist, particularly if other law firm staff is knowledgeable and attentive, the client will feel like they have a whole team of people working on their matter and helping them reach their desired result, rather than just one person in the firm who holds all of the cards. (This is particularly true if the lead attorney is often inaccessible.)
Delighted Clients are Loyal Clients
Finally, my friend Michelle Golden's Facebook post demonstrates how a little attention to detail, a little attentiveness from staff, and something unexpected can make a huge difference in terms of client service.
While visiting a hotel this week, hotel staff noticed Michelle wasn't feeling well and - on their own - sent hot tea and honey to her room. If that weren't enough, they took the time to make her a handwritten card (pictured here*). As Michelle said in her post, "Great example of how excellent service is NOT efficient. Good service would have been the clerk calling room service to order it. Great service was the whole team taking time to make a cute card."
What do you think her satisfaction level with the hotel is now? Do you think she'll remember her experience? If she is returning to the area, where do you think she'll want to stay? Do you think she'll recommend this hotel to her friends? If she leaves a review online, what is it likely to say?
What can you do to help your clients have that kind of experience with your law firm?
[*Photo credit: Michelle Golden]