The standard advice used to be for lawyers to model their client service after Starbucks. Make the experience and service fantastic. But if the current state of Starbucks service (and that offered by many other businesses) post-Covid is any indication, that’s the worst model for lawyers. A better model: double down on customer service and experience.
I recently had the following exchange with Starbucks support:
Me: Up until a week or so ago, I could walk into Starbucks, order a grande Pike, and the person taking the order would turn around, fill a cup and hand it to me thru the slot at the bottom of the plexiglass separating the two of us. Now, the person takes the order and walks away. I then have to wait until someone else notices me and fills the cup. Very inefficient and time-consuming for me. And not as safe: the person handing me the coffee comes out from behind the Plexiglas to give it to me. I don’t understand the change in procedure. I hope this is not designed to discourage walk-up orders.
And then later:
Me (exasperated) Why do I have to wait 5 minutes when the barista could turn around and fill the cup with pike and hand it to me. If I wanted to wait in line, I would have gone thru the drive-through. If this is how it’s going to be from now on (and it sure seems that way), I’m about ready to give up on Starbucks.
Finally, this from Starbucks Support. This is a great question, we rely on the local leadership for store-level decisions regarding operations, and they would be in the best position to address your concerns, as we do not have visibility to these details.
Well, you know, it’s Covid
So I asked the manager in one of the Starbucks what the story was. Her response: well, you know, it’s Covid.
The Starbucks written response was not really a response. They didn’t address the problem. They just yakked about it and said nothing. That’s what most law firms do when it comes to customer (client) service, by the way. And blaming the new procedure (which allows for less labor and foot traffic, reducing costs) on Covid is a ploy to get customers to accept less for the same price.
But I have noticed other businesss, like many hotel chains and other restaurants, using Covid as an excuse. An excuse to reduce customer service and to degrade the customer experience to reduce costs. A reduction which of course does not inure to the customers’ benefit.
The goal is to lower operating costs by getting rid of amanitas and reducing staff.
So, most fast-food restaurants, including Starbucks, have eliminated your ability to sit inside. Ordering has become a chore to force you to the drive-through. Various hotels have recently announced that they plan to continue offering limited or even no housekeeping. Room service? A thing of the past. In-room amenities like minibars and coffee makers? Gone. Even hotel restaurants and bars are disappearing. The goal is to lower operating costs by getting rid of amanitas and reducing staff.
Want more examples? Southwest Air, another company that used to pride itself on making customers happy, recently devalued its mileage points. Without notice or opportunity to book a flight before the reduction. Guess they figured no one would notice since we aren’t traveling as much.
Will the cutbacks end once the pandemic is over? Well, the pandemic is starting to subside, yet the cutbacks are getting worse, not better.
Here’s how the CEO of Hilton described what’s really going on in a recent investors call:
The work we’re doing right now in every one of our brands is about making them higher-margin businesses and creating more labor efficiencies, particularly in the areas of housekeeping, food and beverage, and other areas. When we get out of the crisis, those businesses will be higher margin and require less labor than they did pre-Covid.
In other words, the cuts and the decline of the so-called customer experience are permanent. Businesses are gambling that customers are used to cutbacks and will accept them without a whimper. (Here’s a good article about the phenomenon from the One Mile at a Time travel blog.)
Why is this important to lawyers and not a wild-eyed rant by a blogger with a hoodie?
Too many lawyers already take a dim ( or no) view of client service. Lawyers are notoriously bad at trying to make client experience and service any better.
Jack Newton, founder, and CEO of Clio, one of the most successful legal tech companies, put it this way in his book The Client Centered Law Firm, ironically citing Starbucks as an example of good client service:
The experience at Starbucks (well-designed shops, excellent service, streamlined ordering, and more) is the bedrock of a brand that’s grown from a small Seattle coffee shop to a global business with a market capitalization of nearly $90 billion. Starbucks is the world’s largest coffee chain with 27,000 locations in more than 76 countries worldwide. Law firms aren’t coffee shops, but there’s a useful parallel: Law firms deliver a product (i.e., legal advice) and an experience (i.e., interactions with your law firm), and clients view these as one and the same.
You have virtually unlimited opportunity to differentiate yourself based on the client experience you provide
Newton observes in his book that beyond a certain base level of competency, most legal deliverables are interchangeable. “Your ability to differentiate yourself from the competition based on your work product alone is likely limited; however, you have virtually unlimited opportunity to differentiate yourself based on the client experience you provide.”
It may be easy for law firms to continue to conclude they don’t need to be concerned about customer experience and service. Or worse, they might figure that they too can cut costs and increase profits by reducing service to clients.
But that would be a mistake. Now is the precise time to up your game. There’s an opportunity here for lawyers when it comes to client experiences when so many service businesses are reducing “service”.
I know a couple who was recently sued. They hired a lawyer who not only returns their calls promptly, he actually made a couple of house calls without charge to make sure he had the facts.
The lawyer could have easily used the pandemic as an excuse to provide less service. Instead, he chose to shine in time of reduced service everywhere else.
What most people want from lawyers is simply good client service
By the way, the couple is ecstatic with the service. And the lawyer. Think they would hire him again? Think they would recommend him to others? (The Clio 2019 Clio Legal Trends Report reveals that some 59% of those hiring a lawyer make their hiring decisions based on referrals).
According to Clio 2019 Report, what most people want from lawyers is simply good client service. In an age where crappy service is becoming the norm, don’t be Starbucks. Let your customer service and client experience be your most distinctive characteristic.