Posted by: johnocunningham | March 15, 2013

50 Ways to Love Your Client

When the legal news site, “Roll on Friday,” recently published a copy of an internal memo from Cleary Gottlieb partner, Michael McDonald, about how to “super-please clients,” it set off a firestorm of commentary on the publisher’s site.

I found this interesting, considering that the memo itself cited former Harvard Business School Professor David Maister as the source for much of its advice, and considering that much of the advice is by now accepted among legal marketers and rainmakers as orthodoxy.

The memo contained 50 suggestions on ways to show a little love to your internal or external clients, including these “radical” gems:

  • Exceeding their expectations;
  • Providing rapid response and turnaround;
  • Communicating in the client’s preferred medium (e-mail, phone, in-person, etc) and style (short, long, detailed, etc);
  • Bringing opportunities to the client without being asked;
  • Providing them with phone numbers where they can always reach you;
  • Being attentive to their personal needs and accommodating their personality; and
  • Sending them birthday or holiday cards.

This all seems like pretty basic advice to anyone who has been in a marketing role for a service profession, but apparently it set off quite a negative reaction among some who commented on the posting, as well as among some who commented on Vivia Chen’s related posting on the Corporate Counsel site.

Among the negative comments were the following in excerpted form:

  • What a slimy list – he must be a nightmare [partner] to work with;
  • Anyone who has time to put together this list is not all that busy;
  • If you want someone at your “beck and call,”  then you must be an “awful” client;
  • This inane missive encapsulates all I hate about law; and
  • I’ve been “super-pleasing” my internal clients so much I can barely walk.

Judging from the sum total of commentary, which was far more negative than positive, I think there could be some extreme dissatisfaction in the profession right now, and much of it may be coming from people who simply do not enjoy striving to be the best internal or external service providers in the labor marketplace.

Being a superior service provider – one who stands out from the competition – is not easy, and it can be quite humbling, but it can also be very rewarding. When clients have a choice, they always take the best service provider, even though many of the previously mentioned comments purported to come from clients (anonymously posting) who declared that they don’t want “over-attentive” service.

I dare say that the vast majority of clients that I have interviewed from around the world, and they number in the hundreds, are looking for the best possible service they can get. That includes “super-pleasing” service if it can be found.

If the client has an option in the service marketplace to buy “super-pleasing” and super-fast service, better than average service, ordinary service, or service below their expectations, which do you think they will buy? Lawyers are service providers, and they are measured, hired and fired on their service (not on where they went to school or the grades they got).

In that regard, they are no different from car mechanics, dry cleaners, and restauranteurs. If legal service is fast, friendly and even better than expected, then clients will beat a path through the provider’s doors, and they will tell others about their experience. If the service is provided by people who appear to be burned out, dissatisfied, or distracted by the priority of their own needs, then clients will run from the provider’s doors, and they will tell far more people than if they loved the service.

Furthermore, if lawyers provide only the pedestrian “expected” service, then they will be priced and bid out as commodities, relegated to the RFP pile and changed out every time a lower bidder shows up to court the client.

I know nothing about Michael McDonald, and I have no idea who was doing the comment posting on these sites (though judging from the viewpoints and language, much of it was likely done by young associates). But I am pretty sure that the people who are posting these comments are very unhappy and they would serve themselves and their employers well by looking for another line of work, perhaps one where they can be compensated for piece-work tasks without service measurement (if such a job exists anymore).

Serving others, even in a commercial context, is also in my opinion, good for the soul. Putting the needs of others first, and consciously attempting to make their lives easier – even by doing their dry cleaning or their legal work – is a humbling exercise, and to quote an English theologian: “Humility is the precondition for the acceptance of God’s grace, and service to others is the path to humility.”

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