I wrote recently about the great chasm between lawyer supply and demand for legal services. I suggested that this is an age-old problem only because many lawyers are courting a very small market segment, the large companies of the world. The bulk of the consuming public has less ability to pay but still great need. And the Bar hasn’t yet figured out how to incentivize lawyers to serve this need.
But perhaps the real issue is not so much the supply, but rather the lack of service provided by lawyers. The following several instances were reported to me from one who had repeated unpleasant interactions with lawyers. It’s a shame that she had more than one such experience, but most people can identify with what happened to her.
"When we needed an immigration attorney," she says, "only one returned our calls of inquiry from the several my husband called locally. When we were looking for a lawyer for wills and other family matters recently, only one was interested in the bread and butter stuff we needed addressed." She continues by making the further observation, "Instead of using a lawyer, we used a ‘non-lawyer’ for our house sale; she was very efficient." She concludes that "… as consumers, we see the ‘lawyer’ crisis differently!."
Lawyers get a bad rap deservedly in too many instances!
Electronic and computer technology enable lawyers to do more and better work in less time, but this creates a new service dynamic where clients continually demand to pay less for what they increasingly see as a commoditized service.
Law firms must meet client needs through greater technology efficiencies. Not only does this seem obvious, it is an element necessary to maintain competence as required by the rules of professional conduct.
More efficient law firms that reduce client legal costs should gain new business that enhances revenue. However, the ability to increase billings while becoming more efficient depends on changing the billing system to embrace alternative fee arrangements. With greater reliance on contingent, fixed, capped or value fees where time is not the relevant issue to determine the fee; service to the client is the key metric of value to the client, not billable hours.
Verizon – Redux: The power of blogging is apparent when Verizon calls me the day after my original post in this column about their service, or lack thereof, to ask how they can address the problems I raised. I glad to say that the issues I raised have been resolved. The process, however, is fascinating to me.
The day after my post, I attended a conference conducted by my own business coach, Alan Weiss. While there, coincidentally, Verizon Fios was conducting a sales training program. I talked to one of the folks running the program, who then introduced me to a district manager. He knows the store manager where my incident occurred and said he would contact him. (I have still not heard from him.) Also, during the day, another higher up attempted to reach me by phone. On my return later in the day, I returned the call … and we finally connected.
The billing issue that arose after my purchases was resolved to my satisfaction, and I learned more about Verizon. One,I was told they outsource their collection issues rather than first seeking to resolve any questions internally. To my way of thinking, this is a mistake because most billing issues result from the actions of the creditor. And, in the case of lawyers, unresolved billing issues could result in a malpractice action. Wouldn’t it be better to address the billing issue, resolve it and retain the goodwill of the client, not to mention the client’s future business? Verizon, being in an oligarchic position, apparently, doesn’t understand the nuance. Of course, collection is not their strength; sales and service is. But, I would think that better collection techniques could enhance rather than destroy customer goodwill.
Second, I learned that neither he store level nor the first contact person can resolve these issues. They have to be pushed "upstairs." In this case, it was another district manager who had the authority. One of the lessons learned from Ritz Carlton Hotels (now a division of Marriott) is that all front line personnel have the authority to spend up to $2,500 to satisfy customer complaints. SAS, the airline, after their bankruptcy, pushed all decision-making authority down to the lowest level. This process made sure that customer issues are resolved as quickly as possible; that the sour taste of complaints does not remain with the customer longer than need be; and that senior folks are focusing on what they are hired to do … not to settle what usually amounts to "small" issues.
In the case of lawyers, value is in the eye of the beholder, the client. Lawyers can/should adjust bills in order to match value as seen by the client. Most billing issues, in my opinion, are set up by the lawyer in the first intake session. A full discussion not only of the matter, but also the fee to be charged for the matter, will likely avoid most billing problems … and assure the lawyer is paid on time and in full.
Next, I learned that Verizon is experimenting in our geographic area (Southern California) with requiring appointments so that customers can better plan their time and be served without interruption. I commend the company for seeking to offer better service. I believe (this is unsolicited feedback) that a combination approach would work better …. that is, make appointments and serve "walk-ins" if / when their representatives are available. It is difficult to manage any large company. Verizon certainly is in this category. But, then, so is Apple and Apple, among others seems to be able to address appointments as well as walk-ins.
Bottom line, I’m pleased with my purchases from Verizon, which included the new iPad and Motorola Razr Maxx, and I’m pleased with finally dealing with the other issues that arose. It was unfortunate that Verizon could not have handled our issues more effectively, with less turmoil, in order to retain that sweet smell of consumer purchase euphoria.
Two weeks ago, I purchased a Motorola Razr Maxx from Verizon and an iPad. I’m happy with both, but both need some adjusting. Perhaps I would be more correct in saying that the owner of the devices needs some adjusting … or relearning.
In any event, I went into Verizon this afternoon, the same store from where the purchases were made., and asked for assistance. I was told that they now have a new policy: They would help me if I want to buy a new device or accessory. But, they would need to make an appointment with me for another time if I want to ask questions or get some help about the devices I already own.
The old policy was to wait your turn until a representative had finished with a current customer and was available to meet with you. That seemed fair.
Apple, a much larger store, will put you on their list and you wait your turn. Yes, they will also make an appointment for you at the Genius Bar. And there are many knowledgeable sales people walking the floor who can answer most of the questions I’ve had … and are willing to do so.
This reminds me of the lawyer who plays telephone tag with a client … to the frustration of the client. If you’re not in when the client calls and cannot return the phone call quickly, have your assistant make an appointment. It’s clearly better, however, to take that call on the first attempt if you’re in the office. Failure to connect is still the #1 complaint against lawyers.
Verizon does not seem to get this simple fact of customer relations! Do not let the customer go away angry because you are unwilling to answer his/her questions about the device you sold. Oh, yes, I forgot. They can be as nasty as they want because they have you tied to a two year contract! Just think what would happen without that contract? I’d be back at AT&T in a heartbeat!
After my last post about customer service, Orbea, the manufacturer of the bike frame I was riding when I was involved in an accident, a company representative contacted me. His explanation for the less than appropriate company response was that it was sent from Spain, the company headquarters, and the sender had challenges with the English language.
Whether this is true, I cannot say. But, Mr. Paul Alexander of the U.S. Orbea arm said that I should visit a local Orbea retailer and I would receive a 15% – 20% discount on a new bike. He said, "I look forward to getting you back on your bike and leave you a satisfied Orbea cyclist."
Thank you, Mr. Alexander. That should have been the first response from Orbea. My wife asked for information about the company’s "crash program." Even an expression of sympathy/concern and a statement that the company doesn’t have a crash program would have sufficed … and saved unfavorable ink in this blog. Commenting on Orbea’s warranty program was not the subject of my wife’s inquiry.
I’m glad to see that the company has recouped so gracefully. Some companies don’t do even that. Some time ago, you may remember that United Airlines committed a major gaff. By not treating their customers with due respect, a song was written about the company and it appeared in the social media. The company stock dropped 10% as a result! That is still the subject of some discussion.
I’m glad that Orbea represented the cycling industry more professionally and with greater sensitivity on the rebound.
Have you ever had problems traveling, making connections or finding that weather is a great excuse to be surly to those you serve? If you’ve ever experienced any of these, or a myriad of other issues facing us when we travel, check out my latest commentary on having been stranded in Manhattan, trying to get home from JFK. While bad weather is a legitimate catalyst for scrambling (as in Chicago), just remember that you’re in the business and know these things happen. Be prepared with a good attitude – your customers need all the help and pleasantness they can get.
Thus, as lawyers, you know that your clients will always be in stress. Make sure that you and your staff are pleasant. It will make the relationship go more smoothly … oh, and yes, they will be far more willing to pay your bills timely! Heed this advice only if you understand that you are in The Business of Law®.