Is the customer always right?
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While in many ways the legal profession is a stand-alone industry, it nevertheless shares some features and objectives with all businesses in the provision of their services. One such is to listen to and satisfy clients. Due in part to the ever-increasing competition in the legal sector, there are now certain expectations which clients require their lawyers to meet above and beyond simply providing excellent advice - and being customer-focused businesses, law firms must strive to respond to these demands.
During a recent corporate and commercial training day, several clients gave presentations about what they personally look for in a law firm. Interestingly, not one so much as mentioned the quality of work, which only reinforced the conviction that many clients view this as a given. One point which each client raised was lawyers’ approach to fees. While they all seemed happy with the customary process of receiving and accepting a written scope and fee estimate before any work is carried out, they each expressed their discontent with the notion of fees exceeding such an estimate without mutual agreement in advance. Although this is always a somewhat thorny issue, these clients made it clear that they would much prefer their solicitors to address it with them directly rather than simply sending out the bill. They emphasised their understanding that fee estimates may potentially alter as the work progresses, but strongly encouraged honesty and transparency in the event of such. During subsequent discussion, it was established that providing clear and accurate scopes of work for each matter, staying vigilant to increasing fees and keeping clients continuously updated with both work and fee progression would help to achieve this.
Two further qualities unanimously required by the clients were responsiveness and proactivity. Responding promptly to queries either via phone or email is, apparently, a courtesy which is frequently promised yet rarely exercised by solicitors. Even if such prompt responses consist only of an acknowledgement of receipt and arrangements for further correspondence, these are, it would seem, very much appreciated. Having potential problems highlighted before they arise and specific work recommended before it becomes urgent are other examples of equally desirable conduct.
In contrast, having to chase a solicitor for a reply or repeat particular instructions were cited as instances invoking extreme disappointment. Additional comments of the clients indicated that solicitors should not tell clients what they already know, nor undertake work which has not been explicitly requested. While friendliness and the ability to co-operate with clients’ personnel were stated as positive factors, constant professionalism was deemed essential. Moreover, when it comes to negotiations, it would appear that a solicitor should exercise a certain degree of assertiveness, but never allow this to escalate into aggression which could damage relations between the parties. Most of all, the clients agreed, advice should be clear, concise and predominantly outcomes-focused.
I, for one, found this particular training session invaluable. Legal expertise aside, the business of law firms originates from their clients and achieving customer satisfaction plays a crucial part in attracting and retaining said clients. Who better to outline exactly what this entails than the clients themselves? I have consequently made careful note of the above points and will strive to implement them into my everyday working. After all, in this context at least, the customer is always right!