You Don’t Call A Lawyer When You Are Happy
It was 1988 and finding an apartment to rent in Toronto was tough. The vacancy rate was 0.1%. Rents were sky high, and landlords knew they could get away with a lot.
My roomie and I were both young, petite women, and we’d found a place we really liked. It was a coach house, and the landlord lived in the main house, across the yard.
The landlord was a big man: well over 6 feet tall and weighing in at over 300 pounds. He told us to come with a deposit of two months rent that evening and he’d have the lease ready for us to sign.
When we arrived, he called out to us that he was in the yard, and we should come back there. We did, nervously because there was no light on and it was getting dark.
He got up, but still didn’t turn on a light.
He took the cheque, but rather than giving us the lease, he put his sausage-like arms around my roomie and me, and told us how much we were going to love living there.
We’d been apartment hunting for weeks, and were running out of time. Our guts were screaming “Don’t do it!” but practicality said “Get this over with and move on! You’ll probably never see him anyway.” And he already had our cheque. And we really liked the coach house. So we signed.
When we got home, we called the girl who was currently living in the apartment, because the landlord had been uncertain about when exactly she’d be moving out. She started telling us horror stories about what a creep and a liar he was. In fact, he hadn’t even told her that he was renting the place to someone else!
We realized we had to get out of this deal. Fast!
Luckily, my brother, Albert Frank, is a lawyer. He’s brilliant in court, but was always a little socially awkward, so I was stunned when I heard him go into lawyer mode. Calm, confident, reassuring.
“Would you want to get out of the deal even if you couldn’t get the deposit back?” he asked us.
“Great,” he said cheerfully. He went on to calmly explain why there was no way this guy was going to win in court.
It took two years of outrageous stalling tactics on the creep’s part, but eventually we did get our deposit back. Thank you Albert!
I’m telling you this because you can’t judge a lawyer’s competence by your first impression. (But when it comes to landlords, I say trust your gut!)
Customer Experience With Lawyers Often Starts With a Phone Call
But we are humans, and we do tend to go on first impressions. And they are becoming increasingly important even in fields like law, where, just as in every other industry, customer experience is now crucial.
There are new business models disrupting the world of attorneys. Competitors like LegalZoom.com, while not offering legal services directly, are skimming some of the higher profit margin work by offering inexpensive subscription plans where customers can have telephone consultations with lawyers they haven’t met in person to deal with routine matters.
In that scenario, customers won’t have time to get to know their lawyers as well as I know my brother. That’s why, as Richard Kort, Director of Service Excellence, told me in today’s interview, a lawyer’s people skills and telephone manner are absolutely crucial.
The Internet has also made it possible for people to share their opinions of their service providers through online reviews, so getting good reviews is important both to the attorneys and to LegalZoom.
The company is in the same sort of position a manufacturer is: they have to count on people who aren’t their employees to win the hearts of customers. For manufacturers that would be distributors or retailers. For web based legal service facilitators, it’s the lawyers.
Rate My Lawyer?
How does LegalZoom make sure its attorneys are providing the level of service their customers demand?
Customers are surveyed after every interaction, and the survey responses are analysed carefully.
“We are constantly looking for things that are out of the norm that are trending.”
With tens of thousands of reviews, the volume of feedback has now reached a level where they can start using artificial intelligence (AI) to analyse the data and find trends that might escape the human eye.
They also use mystery shoppers. Just like retail staff, many lawyers are convinced they can tell when they are being mystery shopped, but they are rarely right.
Once they’ve identified problems, training can help the lawyers understand where they might be going wrong in customer interactions. (Assuming the lawyers are open to hearing the feedback.)
Kort says sometimes they’ll play calls back to the lawyer, because “people generally don’t know what they sound like.”
(That’s true for us speakers too — it really helps to watch video of presentations you’ve done because how you come across to the audience can be quite different from how you felt up on stage.)
How to Hire a Lawyer in the Era of Customer Clout
As with any customer-facing job, it is important to hire people with the right attitude.
Before entering into an agreement with a lawyer the company will assess their telephone manner.
“They’ve got to like to talk, they’ve got like to listen, and they’ve got to like people.” – Richard Kort, Legal Zoom, on how they screen lawyers
When it comes down to it, “if they’re not a people person, there’s nothing we’re going to be able to do to change them.”
That said, I’d still argue that, for anything that goes beyond routine, whether you are choosing a lawyer or a surgeon, you want the one who’s got the best skills, even if that may mean looking beyond superficial people skills.
But if you are a lawyer and want to have a highly profitable business in this era of easily accessible information and customer clout, you’d better work on those customer service skills too.