Redhead girl with green phone on yellow background.If you ask any of my lawyers, they’ll tell you that I have a “mad face.” I reserve it for times when I need to get them moving from one thing to the next at conferences (and they’re not hustling), or when I am actually frustrated about something that’s not running as smoothly for them as I would like.

But truth be told, it actually takes quite a lot to get me legitimately mad. It happens so seldomly that I can remember each incident quite clearly – and that means they leave an impression.

I had one such issue in advance of our recent Annual Meeting, having nothing to do with the actual conference, and it was such a frustrating example of how NOT to treat a customer that I wanted to share it here as a cautionary tale for all of us to remember how easy it is to make or break a client relationship in a single interaction.

My customer service story involves clothes – the short version of the story is: I needed a few new things in advance of the conference, and decided to order from Boden, a British company (this is important). I’d never ordered from them before, but have gotten their catalog for years and always liked the look of their styles. I placed the order late on the 16th of May, knowing I was leaving on the 25th, and paid for premium shipping (3-5 business days). 

As you can probably guess, they didn’t get the package to me in time – half of the order was coming from the UK, which wasn’t communicated to me until it was already shipped (I would have ordered elsewhere had I known).  When I realized on the Saturday before my trip that I wasn’t going to be getting the items I needed in time, I tweeted and called both the post office (who were responsible for holding a package that didn’t need to be delayed) and Boden, who both had big customer service issues that left a sour taste in my mouth. I won’t go into the details and the drama surrounding it, but suffice to say, it left a bad enough taste in my mouth that I won’t be ordering from Boden ever again.

This was a high class problem to be having, I realize, but it was an unnecessary hassle before my biggest trip of the year, an opportunity for Boden to wow me with their customer service, and instead, they effectively apologized and shrugged their shoulders. Things happen, and I recognize that, but it’s in the handling of those things that we can really find the chance to create strong client relationships. And that’s where both the postal service and Boden fell down dramatically. That, combined with the situation forcing me to shop with Jersey shore tourists on Memorial Day weekend instead of prepping for my trip left me stressed and frustrated. My mad face was definitely out.

So, what went wrong? Well, it’s all about communication:

  • In using the BodenUSA.com website, I assumed that I would be ordering items located in the US. Perhaps Boden says somewhere on there that that’s not the case, but it shouldn’t be up to the consumer to find that information – it should be made more readily available on each item when you’re placing your order. Had I known I was ordering from the UK, I would have realized I wasn’t allowing for nearly enough delivery time and made other arrangements (or at least moderated my expectations).Lesson for lawyers? Be transparent. Sometimes we assume that a client will be upset if they have the full story in advance, and so we just cross our fingers and hope it works out, and they never find out that we were doing something by the skin of our teeth. But honesty is a much better policy. Manage your clients’ expectations properly when it comes to delivery of services and your communication with them, and whether the answer is always one that they are happy with, they will at least respect you. I always prefer hearing from one of our service providers that they’ve been delayed with the delivery of something for me than not hearing from them at all.
  • I sent them Boden number of unhappy tweets which went unanswered for at least 12 hours. Yes, there is a time difference between the US and the UK but if you have a US branch of your operations, you should have a US branch of your social media as well. They had a tweet publish at the time I was messaging them, so either someone was monitoring the tweets and ignored me, or they had them scheduled and weren’t overseeing them. I became much angrier as my tweets were ignored over time than if they’d dealt with me quickly – social media is built for quick responses.This goes for the post office too. They have two accounts – one for the general post office, and one that is a help account. Neither account is monitored on the weekends, despite the fact that the post office itself is open on Saturday mornings. If the post office is open, your social media account needs to be open. Further, they never responded to my tweets. Ever. Which means I’m probably on a watch list somewhere instead.

    Lesson for lawyers? Respond quickly. In this day and age of social media, if you have social profiles, you have to be present. That doesn’t mean you have to be monitoring them constantly, but you should be checking in daily to make sure that you’re aware of the conversations happening. This becomes exponentially important when someone is upset (and doesn’t just apply to social media – social media has just made everyone more impatient in general). If someone contacts you with a complaint, it needs to be addressed. A lot of the time, an apology and an honest attempt to fix it are all that they really want. Radio silence will absolutely fuel the flames.

  • It’s almost impossible to get someone from the post office on the phone. I dialed the customer service number, and because their system allows you to track packages on the phone, and insists that you give them tracking information in order to continue if you want to talk about a package, it just kept telling me that I didn’t need to speak to a person because all of the information it had was the tracking information it was giving me. And when I repeated “customer service” several times to try to get the system out of its loop, it hung up on me.I did ultimately get to customer service when I called again later in the day (and the system remembered my number too), and the woman was very nice, but ultimately couldn’t help me. She put me in touch with the local sorting facility, who apparently does not yet believe in answering machines or voicemail (they literally had a message to that effect).

    Lesson for lawyers? Make things simple. Does this sound familiar – someone asks for assistance with something, and it’s not your practice area. You think it’s Bob Jones’ area, so you give the client his number and forget about it. The client calls Bob, but it’s not really his area. He thinks Shirley does it though, so he gives the client her number. And so on. It *seems* like you’ve been helpful to your client, but have you really? Instead, be a problem solver – say, “Yes, the firm does that. I want to talk to a couple of people to make sure I find the lawyer who is the right fit to handle this for you, and then I’ll have that person give you a call.”

    Then, talk to the other lawyers in your firm – that way, you’re the ONE point of contact. Your client doesn’t have to do any extra work, and just sees you as a problem solver for them, even if you’re not problem-solving their legal work.

    And definitely, definitely, definitely always have voicemail available. You don’t have to be chained to your desk, but clients should be able to reach you somehow at all time. Not live, mind you – that’s unreasonable; but they should be able to either send you an email or text or tweet or call you and leave a message when they need something with the expectation that you’ll respond within 24 hours barring an emergency. There’s nothing more frustrating that needing to talk to someone about something and not being able to figure out how to get a hold of them.

  • Before Boden eventually got back to me on Twitter, I did call their customer service, and all that they could do was apologize and offer to refund the cost of shipping, since clearly the items weren’t going to make it in time. At that time, I hadn’t gotten through to the post office, and I asked if they could call them at least, since they worked directly with them, but they weren’t willing to.This was where I ended up most disappointed. I’d placed a large order as a new customer and not only had they let me down in terms of delivering on what they promised, but the best they could offer in response was a half-hearted apology. I don’t blame the customer service rep – she’s just toeing the company line. I do blame Boden for not empowering their reps to wow their customers in the same way that a company like Zappos, for example, does.

    For example, I would have been impressed if they’d taken the initiative to call the post office and get the package delivered on Sunday (since the post office is now doing that for Amazon Prime, it is reasonable that Boden could exert some influence over them to make that happen – I mean, they are a shipping provider). Or if they’d offered me a credit or coupon towards a future purchase for my trouble. I’d have really been impressed had they inquired as to where I was traveling to (I’d given her the entire story), and offered to re-ship the items to my hotel as long as I shipped the original package back when I returned home). But instead, I got a quick apology, the offer to refund the shipping, and the standard “Is there anything else I can do for you?”

    No, certainly not.

    Lesson for lawyers? Go the extra mile. Not just when your clients are disappointed about something, but all the time. We’ve talked about this on Zen before, about making everyone feel like a VIP, and it does make a difference. Excellence is a cultural thing, and it can start with you – help empower everyone at your firm to create a culture of excellence for your clients. If you’re not sure how to do that, I highly recommend reading Tony Hsieh’s book, Delivering Happiness. And, although I admittedly haven’t read it yet, Peter Shankman writes about this too in his latest book, Zombie Loyalists (and I’ve read enough of his blog posts to have a flavor of what it’s all about).

Being a lawyer is about more than excellent work product – it’s also about delivering excellent client service. This situation with Boden reminds me that I too need to be carefully attuned to what my lawyers are saying (and not saying) in our interactions, so that I can ensure that they’re not only happy, but wowed as members of our Network. Let’s all challenge ourselves to wow our clients instead of just getting by with the bare minimum of client service. Boden had me and lost me as a customer in a single interaction, and that’s something that can happen to all of us. What are some of the things we can do to create happy and loyal clients?