I think customer service representatives get a bad rap. I think they’re put on the same level as used car salesmen and parking inspectors as people to pour scorn on or at the very least endured. Until, of course you get a good one. You know the type of people that are good at their job, they take pride in their work and they know their stuff; the type of people that take service seriously, lawyers could take some tips from customer service professionals. Why? Well, a happy client begets another.
1 Service is everything.
Practicing law is all about delivering a professional service. It doesn’t matter if that service is being delivered to an individual, a company a board, a group of people, a bank whatever. The practice of law revolves around providing a service. Not only that, the service by law needs to be provided competently and to the best of your ability.
Lawyers may have a monopoly over the provision of legal services but there is no shortage of competition for firms of all sizes. If your clients don’t get good service from you, they’ll leave. There’s no shortage of lawyers.
2 Being an excellent lawyer isn’t all about the law.
Unless you have a highly sophisticated client that is a regular purchaser of legal services they will not know or appreciate the legal aspect of the work you do for them.
Because your clients don’t know the law as well as you do so they won’t appreciate (as well as they should!) your meticulous legal reasoning and sound legal argument in their matter or that exceptionally referenced and researched 11 page letter of advice you wrote.
What the client is basing whether you’re a good lawyer on is whether you are trustworthy, reliable, and able to guide them through their legal issue in a way they feel appreciated and given them good customer service.
Don’t be surprised if your client doesn’t think “gee she really analysed all my legal issues with reference to case law dating back to 1877.” Your client is more likely to just scratch his head and think ‘Wow, I paid all that money for this piece of rubbish I don’t understand!’
3 A good lawyer informs a client about possible outcomes a great one manages expectations.
Not all clients have a good case, we know this, and they know this. (Well, for the most part). A crucial aspect of providing really good customer service is managing a client’s expectations from the start. How long their case may take, how much your costs are, what the prospects of success are, good band and ugly. Not only are you being honest, you’re fulfilling your legal duty to your client.
A client may still be angry that they haven’t succeeded which will happen, but if they were clearly informed that this was a possibility then that anger can’t reasonably be directed at you.
4 Customer service isn’t customer slavery.
You are retained to act for a client based on your knowledge not as some sort of indentured servant in a suit. Part of setting up your client’s expectation is about informing them of your paramount duties; first to the court, then to your client and the profession. Providing good customer service to a client doesn’t mean doing everything they ask you to regardless of what it is.
It’s about developing the people skills required to be excellent at your job. Sympathy and empathy, honesty and integrity, hardworking and understanding all intertwined with truly excellent communication skills.
5 Use your communication skills.
Lawyers, you work with one of the most beautiful and impressive tools known to humankind. A tool that can move emotions, begin and end wars, make you fall in love, move you to tears or bore you to death like a thousand paper cuts: words.
There are over 1,019,729.6 words in the English language. An excellent lawyer will be able to use as many of them as possible to clearly, articulately and accurately communicate with their client in a way that they understand. No, not you, them.
A client that is communicated to in a way that they understand will be a happy client that will feel respected by you so be mindful of your language. It’s easy to explain promissory estoppel using legal jargon, there’s no skill in that. A true wordsmith will be able to explain promissory estoppel to a child, an adult, a primary school student and a High Court judge without fear or favour.
Besides, if your client doesn’t know what you’re talking about they’ll just think that you’re the idiot.