Creating a Culture of Client Service Excellence - an LMA 2012 Re-cap

The final session that I attended during the LMA Conference this year was “Creating a Culture of Client Service Excellence” with Leonardo Inghilleri, the EVP and Managing Partner of West Paces Consulting.

I was a few minutes late to the session, and the energy in the room felt a bit low, so I was initially concerned I may have chosen the wrong session. But I was quickly proven wrong as Leonardo provided us with fabulous insight and an interesting perspective that proved most valuable.

As his bio on the LMA Conference website states:

"Leonardo Inghilleri is a recognized business expert and author, and an opinion leader in the area of organizational effectiveness and strategies, client service excellence, and business innovation. As one of the key architects behind the Ritz-Carlton’s two Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Awards, he has first-hand experience in creating a culture of client service excellence. During this session, you will learn about proven techniques that will help your firm improve the quality of the relationships with your clients. Leonardo will share the concepts and practices that will help to create and maintain the kind of client service environment that can produce strong bottom line results.”

Some may wonder what a hotel expert might have to say about the law firm client service model, but truly successful hotel brands make everything about the client – and truly successful law firms make everything about the client as well. 

The first key thing I heard was that when service can be personalized, the expense and distance of a hotel becomes secondary. You can easily extrapolate from that that a law firm client will pay a higher price for extraordinary service and personalized attention if a firm offers it. Creating a “personal benefit” is a critical client acquisition and retention tool. Similarly, there are instances when people will put up with the issues of a "big box store" simply to save on price – this is the same for law firms. Clients will put up with the issues of a cheaper firm for certain matters because they can save on costs. 

Being a “client-centric” firm means that you’re going to be "glued" to your client. “Client service” doesn’t mean connecting with the client at the end of each month in the form of an invoice. Firms and attorneys need to create value by being:

  1. Good at what you do,
  2. On time, and
  3. 3. Nice

– all at the same time. 

Leonardo said that you have to start with client satisfaction because it’s almost impossible to turn a dissatisfied client into a satisfied one. He made the point that no one likes the IRS, so why would an attorney want to be like them? If you’re not focusing on the concept of caring for your clients, you’re just like the IRS – this is a compelling argument. 

Caring isn’t a complicated issue to articulate – it means that the experience with your firm from a client perspective needs to be pleasant and caring. When you go to a store, you don’t like to be mistreated, so it’s the same for clients coming to a law firm. Every time you come into contact with a client, this is a touchpoint – answering the phone, how pleasant your receptionist is, validating their parking, an accurate invoice, responding to emails on time, the way you set up a meeting room for a client event – all of these are touchpoints.

Leonardo asked the audience to think about whether they’ve ever opened the cupboards in their conference rooms. He’s done that in the conference rooms of firms he's in and has seen empty soda cans, enormous stacks of supplies, and abandoned IT materials – what if your clients opened these cupboards? Similarly, look at where your clients leave their coats – what does your closet look like? What is the client’s experience of putting their coat in the closet, or catching a glimpse of it when the receptionist does? Is it jammed full of coats, supplies, or detritus? 

He pointed out that clients aren’t going to judge a firm on the quality of their legal advice – that’s their ticket to the show. They’re going to judge you on everything else – how you answer the phone, how the meeting room is set up, how clean the closet is. The subtext is that if you’re not able to do the simple things, how does the client know you’re good at the complicated ones? 

Then, we talked a little bit about RFPs, and Leonardo said that price placement is an important part of an RFP because it’s one of the main things the client cares about. So it should be “displayed” up front, but also display the benefits at the same time, as a retailer would do. Think about where you put price in your RFPs (and where you'd like to see price when you get an RFP from a potential business partner). 

When you handle these touchpoints well, by the time the lawyer shows up in the room, the client almost trusts him or her. It’s the power of the first impression – that’s how you build an experience. All of these things create client satisfaction, which breeds loyalty. Keep doing what you’re doing over and over, and you form a habit – that’s habitual loyalty. It’s not the best way to engender loyalty, because it takes a long time. 

Another way to create loyalty is by creating an emotional connection with your clients. The only way to do this is to fulfill their emotional needs. If you understand what’s important for those clients, then you can deliver “personalized” service. There is nothing better than this.

The great thing about emotional connections is that they’re somewhat illogical – it makes you part of something without a real reason. As humans, we like to be part of something and we want to be loyal to an organization. This isn’t only for the benefits, but because we like being a “part” of that exclusive club. 

In the luxury business, there are no “frequent flyer” points. But when their customers come to them, they’ll get an experience that is exactly what they want. They are building a personal benefit. Leonardo challenged us to do this in our own businesses, and the way to do that is by paying attention to our clients. This means studying them and having data (You can get this data both by doing research, and by creating a system that records their likes and dislikes whenever there is a touchpoint with them). 

Lawyers don’t focus on the individual needs of their clients the way that other industries do. Leonardo said that firms need to start doing this, and it’s not that complicated. He suggested that we think of the little things – connect on an emotional level and that will lead to business.
The tricky part, he said, is how we, as marketers, go back to our firms and convince the lawyers to do these things. He joked that we should hire him to tell them, and he would beat them into submission.

But in all seriousness, he said that we need to talk to them about how we differentiate ourselves. His challenge to us was to think about one thing that we (as legal marketers) want to eliminate, and one process that we want to start (he said not to reinvent the wheel – we’re dealing with a lawyers’ culture which is risk-adverse and resistant to change). Take away a thorn, and add something, and then move on to the next thing. He warned us not to try to revolutionize everything, or kill concepts like collegiality. 

Along the lines of differentiation, Leonardo pointed out that all law firm websites say the same thing. There are only a handful of firms that are able to articulate a different culture or brand identify from everyone else – they’re all inner-focused, because all they want to do is think about themselves. 

Instead, think about how to create a brand –that’s our job as marketers, to convince our firms how to be better and different. He used Starbucks as a great example of this, because their entire brand is about being better and different. Leonardo challenged us to try to think about how our firms are better and different.

Another revelation was that “excellence is a pain.” Leonardo said that we can’t think that we can change an organization like a law firm. They’re slow to react, resistant to change, so there can’t be change without pain. Extraordinary results cannot be accomplished with ordinary efforts. He said we should create our own roadmaps to excellence – and added that it will be painful, so we’ll need courage to complete them, and not everyone is excellent.

For our clients, he summed up by saying that people like to be recognized – and when they are, they’re willing to repeat the experience. Create an addictive behavior, and that’s what loyalty is. He challenged us to make our clients addicted to our firm’s services, and the way to do this is to get to know them on a personal level, and make them feel special and important.

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Comments (2) Read through and enter the discussion with the form at the end
Rebecca Wissler (@rebeccawissler) - April 10, 2012 9:37 PM

Great summary of this session, which I did not attend, unfortunately. Attention to the client experience is especially important to attorneys in a small to mid-size firm, like mine. He highlights one of my biggest challenges, which is to convince my attorneys to liken themselves to a commercialized product, like the Starbucks examples Leonardo used. So many attorneys simply can't do this. They see the service they offer as so completely different than a standardized product. My challenge continues! Again, great summary. I'm going to share this with my attorneys.

Lindsay Griffiths - April 11, 2012 10:18 AM

Thanks so much Rebecca - I agree, that is a big challenge. I was thinking about it this morning and wondering if attorneys could get more behind the idea of thinking of themselves like a high end hotel, in terms of their service model. They don't have to feel commoditized, but there's still that attention to detail and service that their clients want.

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