Practice Management

I was your client

GhostDigest apologises for the insufficient acknowledgement of the use of material as found in the book I Was Your Customer by Peter Cheales, in the writing of this article.

Peter Cheales, in his book: I Was Your Customer (Peter Cheales: Second Edition 2003), looks at the issues of service and service delivery from the perspective of the customer. The theme throughout the book is focused on what we, as service providers, do (or don't do) which turns customers away or which result in the loss of customers gained. What is interesting from the reading is that, globally, customers are on a revolutionary drive to now demand a better service from their service providers or face the inevitable loss of their custom and spending power.

This article, adapted on the theme of this great book, looks at clients of law firms and is an attempted virtual dialogue with you, the law firm service provider, about what you need to be aware of to ensure your client's retained custom. If you are unaware, you will face the reality that your client will show his/her/its displeasure by moving to your nearest competitor.

What I see
It is not every day that I need to consult with a lawyer and the thought of doing so is nerve-wracking. Who should I go to? Who is best able to help me with my problem? How much will it cost me? How do I know that you can help me?

To help me with my choice of which lawyer or law firm to approach, I look, firstly, at your appearance: Your offices: Are they clean? Is the receptionist friendly? Does it "fit" my idea of what a law office should look, feel like and smell like? I look at how your staff are dressed and how friendly they are when they see me nervously sitting in reception. Am I treated with respect and offered a cup of coffee?

I see the lawyer I am going to consult with. How is he dressed? Do I get a good feeling about him from the way he walks and talks? Does he show confidence and is he friendly? I am nervous. When I walk into his office, I look around the room: Is it clean and orderly? Are there files all across his desk … an untidy desk is a sign of an untidy mind and … will my file be just another one lying on his desk?

When I talk about my problem, I am looking for signs of genuine interest and concern. I need to feel that I am my lawyer's most important client! When he discusses the way forward in handling my case, I want to feel that he understands his work and that the advice I am getting is the best possible advice. I want to know that I have received value for my money after my consultation.

During this time, I want to feel and see that my matter is receiving attention. How often does my lawyer phone or write to me about the progress of my case? I hate having to phone or enquire about my own case … I pay my lawyer to service my legal needs. I expect … no, demand good service. I look at the efficiency and effectiveness of how long it takes to resolve my matter, how often I am communicated with and how regularly I am kept informed of the cost of all this work. I look at the stationary used: Is it designed with a strong logo? Is it good paper? Are there spelling mistakes and do they use correct grammar?

Add value
As far as I am concerned, all law firms and lawyers offer the same type of service, so what makes me choose you? I am impressed by your office and all the work put into your branding, advertising and brochures. I love the use of words such as "quality service", "excellence" and "Client Care". All these fuzzy words give me the impression that you are focused on providing me with a quality service. But I caution you: At the moment of truth, if you fail to live up to the expectations created, your efforts will count for nothing. You have got me into your front door and I am prepared to spend my hard-earned money with you, so now I want the best service, I want to experience the "added value' that you speak about… I demand a quality service.

Remember this: I am a fickle client, as are your other clients. If you promise me the moon and the stars, then I expect nothing less. I will remain your most loyal client for so long as you give me what I want and what you have promised to deliver.

Build a partnership with me
When I need professional help, I look to the place or person that I feel I can trust and whom I know has my best interest at heart. Do you know that I have been with thesame doctor for over 10 years! Not because he is the very best or has a smart-looking practice. No, I am with him because I trust him. I feel that he understands me and is always looking out for my best interests. He phones me regularly and sends me reminders for my yearly check-up. The same with my tax consultant: The firm is small, but they live up to their creed of "Service Excellence". The receptionist knows me by my first name and the secretary always sends me a birthday card on my special day. Every year, my tax consultant reflects on my previous tax history and, together, we plan the way forward. I will not easily move to another. I have found a trusted partner for my needs.

Funny thing, our relationship. When I am happy, I like to tell all my friends and family, even complete strangers. I like to share my good fortune with others and I know that I am the best marketing resource for my professional advisor. I will do anything to convince my friends to refer their work to him and I know that they will build life-long relations together. I do caution you again: While I am happy to promote you, if you fail me, I am also your worst marketing tool. I can take a few mistakes now and then … we are all human. The way you handle the mistakes will define you and our relationship. Make continuous mistakes and don't learn from them, I will look to leave you and begin to seek out a new professional advisor. I also have the habit to extol the bad experiences I encounter with friends and family and, I'm sure, they will think twice before using you.

Fail me
As your client, I hold the power of your future. Give me good and committed service and, together with your existing and future clients, we will help grow your legal practice into a formidable and profitable company, that I promise you. It won't be easy. You will have to work hard in everything you do to get there. Make sure that the expectations you create in your marketing literature, you can meet. Train your staff not only in delivering a demonstrable service to me but also on how they can personally add to my experience with your firm. I like friendly, efficient and well-dressed people. Ensure that your partners and junior lawyers treat me with respect and as their equal. I don't like it when I am looked down upon or made to feel inferior. Work hard to promote your brand, not only in service delivery, but also in the literature that you send me, your website and brochures. Make the information you send me relevant and interesting. Tell me about your successes. I like to be associated with winners!

Fail me or fail to do anything I have suggested, you will be sorry! Don't get me wrong, I won't always rant and rave, I won't always bite my lip and let things slide. No, every time you fail me, you diminish and tarnish your reputation with me. Soon, it will be blackened and, before you know it … I will be gone. I will not tolerate poor service, no matter how big or small you are. I will not accept excuse after excuse. I will not allow you to take my hard-earned money only to receive a sub-standard service. Fail me and I, together with your other clients, will slowly leave your firm for your competitors. You may not feel it at first, but soon you will see the errors of your way when your revenues dry up and profits are not what they once were. Fail me and that big house and fancy car you want will become an even further dream. Fail me and you will work twice as many hours to make up the lostincome. Fail me and I will contribute to your poor health because of the stress you experience as you see your firm go down. Fail us, your clients, and we will …. shut you down.

Extract from I Was Your Customer by Peter Cheales (Back cover).

I was your client
You may be a good lawyer, but that is no longer enough. I want … no, I demand more. I want you to give me a demonstrably superior service. In return, I will promise you my loyalty and continued custom. Fail me …. well, perhaps you can print Peter Cheales' promise (below) and paste it on all your staff's desks (as well as your own) and be reminded of what I have said and what can happen. I am your client and I have taken the time to warn you. Fail me and this is what you will remember me saying…

I never complain
I never grumble at the poor service I get.
I will stand at the counter patiently while the receptionist chats with a secretary about last night's date.

I don't scowl when kept waiting by my attorney. And, if he finally wanders over to see what I want or is impatient or discourteous … I don't complain. I am very tolerant.

When I ask a simple question and get a curt answer, do I call for the senior partner? No, I just tolerate the situation.
I like to be nice to people because - well, that's the way I am.
I never moan, I never fuss, and I never criticise. I hate to make a scene … I think that's just awful.
No, I am a nice client.

But I will tell you something else, too:
I am the client who doesn't come back!
That's my defence against being pushed around and receiving poor service.

You don't care?
What does one more or less client matter?
But multiplied …

I can ruin your business
That's why I can sit back and laugh when I see you spending all that money on marketing and advertising to get me back, when you could have kept me in the first place:

With a smile, a few kind words … a little service

Think about it.

About the author:
Sean Bosse is a practising attorney in Cape Town who, in 2001 left practice to complete an international MBA focusing on strategic management and marketing. Sean was employed for a few years as a strategic business manager in the IT corporate sector before returning to practice and assisting his firm with several strategic initiatives to improve strategic and operational management. Sean is passionate about strategic and marketing management, especially in the law firm setting and often describes his interests as a passion for the Business of Law. Feel free to contact him at

Reader Comments:

Lillian Merrent 07/02/2006:

I can't believe that I am the 1st one to make a comment here. I loved the article and can't agree more with the way you put the whole picture from the viewpoint of the client. I made my whole staff read the article and have printed the poem. Thanks for all your great articles. Guthries are lucky to have you in their employ

Nathi Hlope 08/02/2006:

Good writting. I like the comments made here and believe such will make a difference in our law practice. Well done. From Nathi

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