It’s becoming increasingly difficult for one law firm to differentiate itself from another firm. Yet, if we take a look at those great brands who excel at customer/client experience, including Four Seasons, Disney and Ritz-Carlton, to name a few, we see that it takes an entire team at all levels to deliver on that promise. For a law firm, it means relying on those who “touch” clients the most to deliver on the promise, and the rest is icing on the proverbial cake.

Clients will tell us that they often begin to assess outstanding service during the business development process. One GC from a large pharmaceutical company stated, “If they show me they can deliver on time and are responsive throughout the sales process, I can usually get a good feel for what they will be like to work with.”

In addition, he offered some other tips for how to demonstrate outstanding client service, including:

  • Communicate: Don’t just keep me informed about what is happening, but communicate to me the range of options, the cost and consequences of those options, and estimate the likelihood of success and the likelihood of getting me to outcomes I desire.

  • Be proactive: Honesty and realism are also very critical.

  • Keep me informed: If I’m not an expert in the area of the litigation, for example, speak in lay-friendly terms and teach me the information I need to know so I can make an informed decision.

  • Distill complex issues: I need to communicate to our CEO and our board; it helps to help me shape those communications.

  • Be courteous: When I see outside counsel talking down to my team, I know I have other options and won’t use them again no matter how good they are. There should be a seamless relationship between us and them. It’s amazing how often this is a problem.

  • Keep us involved with case strategy: Our previous counsel did not communicate well and did not involve us with strategy. So I’ve moved on from them. There are many fine, experienced practitioners today, and it’s still the simple things that retain relationships.

Scott Slavick, chair of the client service committee at IP powerhouse Brinks Gilson Lione, shared these similar views from the law firm side: “We’ve learned through many client interviews that focusing on the client and what they are experiencing from us often comes down to behaviors related to responsiveness and exceeding client expectations. Sometimes it’s the simple things that are most difficult to deliver on.”

Client service also means assisting clients with cost containment. The more specifically outside counsel is able to outline each task and the closer we can get to an accurate and realistic cost estimate, the better. In addition, the further out we can alert clients to unexpected costs, the more they appreciate it. Knowing the pressures, especially economic ones, that your clients are under is invaluable.

Responsiveness is an area that inside counsel continue to stress is critical to their relationships with outside counsel. What is responsive? Returning calls within an hour (even if you are away and it is your assistant acknowledging you are aware of the call and will call at a specified time) is responsive. It is wise to strive to answer the phone anytime a client calls. When it comes to email, a message should be acknowledged within minutes and substantive response should be provided within an hour or two. Clients really appreciate being able to pick up the phone and feel confident that they can reach outside counsel. In addition, with the increased use of social media, real-time problems and real-time answers have taken on even more importance. Connecting immediately when there is an issue is critical to business and to protecting shareholder value.

Service is what firms are selling. How can you “out service” your competition?