Making Rain: What is great service worth? Ask the service industry

November 28, 2018

stohler-making-rainI recently came back from a vacation asking myself, “How much are people really willing to pay for good service, and what is it?” We stayed in a variety of places and ate our meals in quite a few restaurants. In the final analysis, the hotels had rooms and the restaurants had food. But looking back at these basic expectations and considering the service, it was the service that would make me go back and be willing to pay a premium.

Just like law firms and lawyers, how they treat their customers or clients is what really matters. Here are a few things to consider, taken from the hospitality industry, to keep your clients coming back and willing to pay a premium for your services.

I want to be acknowledged

At one of the places we stayed, let’s call this Hotel A, everyone we encountered looked us in the eyes and said hello, or good morning, or asked if we were having a good day. They smiled when they said it. They seemed glad to see us. This hotel also had a restaurant. Without fail, the wait staff would ask either what we had planned for the day or what we had done that day. They used this opportunity to “cross-sell” activities and services at the hotel. I really didn’t mind, because they seemed genuinely interested in offering us some similar suggestions based upon what we said we had done — their way of getting to know us so they knew what to suggest.

Compare this to another place we stayed that I will refer to as Hotel F, where no one ever really looked at us, let alone spoke to us. This included the receptionist who checked us in who was so distracted by her smartphone she couldn’t take her eyes off it. No one really seemed to care that we were there. They were obviously there to get the job done and that was it.

How does your firm do? Are you Hotel A or Hotel F? Do you train everyone in your firm on what you expect them to do when they encounter one another and visitors to your firm? Are people greeted with eye contact and a smile? Do you use the engagement opportunities to find out what else you can help the client with when you are meeting with them? Much like the wait staff in Hotel A, do you ask your clients what they have been working on, how things are going for them, and what else you might be able to do for them to make their life easier?

Anticipate my needs

Hotel A would send us on our way each day with bottles of water and food if we wanted it. They never asked if we wanted the water — just put a couple bottles in the car when they got it from their parking area. Water isn’t expensive, but it definitely set them apart from Hotel F.

At Hotel F we had to ask the front desk person upon check-in where to park. Without making eye contact, she told us where the lot was and gave us a piece of paper to put in the windshield. She didn’t ask us if we needed help with our luggage or suggest that we drop it off in front of the hotel and then park the car. One of the times we came back to the hotel the parking area was full. When we asked what we should do, she suggested we park in a garage that was $10.

Hotel F could have done so much better if they had just done a few simple things. If for a moment they thought about some of the basic things that people need to know when they arrive, such as how to get luggage to the room and where to park, that would have helped. Perhaps telling us that if we needed water or a packed lunch, those things could easily be arranged. Would that cost much? Not really.

So again, is your firm Hotel A or Hotel F? Is your staff trained to anticipate needs? When appointments are made, does someone tell them where to park? Greet them when they are expected to arrive? Anticipate that upon their departure they may need directions or maybe just a coffee or water?

Service is the key ingredient

We ate at a lot of restaurants on this trip as well. In most cases, the food was excellent. The experiences were all different.

Let’s start with Restaurant A. We walked in without a reservation. It was busy. The host greeted us, told us his name, looked us in the eye, smiled and asked us if we had been there before. He didn’t start with, “Do you have a reservation?” We told him we had not been there before, but were hoping to get a table. He told us he was glad we were there (!) and would we mind terribly going to the bar for a bit so that he could find us a table as they were pretty full at the moment? We agreed. He walked us to the bar and introduced us to the bartender, Marilyn. Marilyn immediately made eye contact, smiled and asked us to please have a seat and said she would be with us in a moment. Marilyn was swamped. She was making drinks as fast as she could, but she promptly handed us a couple of drink menus and told us she’d be back in a minute. Marilyn gave us our drinks and after not too long the host came back and showed us to a table. He said because they were really busy things might take a little longer than normal. It was nice to know this and he also suggested a couple of appetizers he could bring out right away if we were really hungry. We went back to this particular restaurant.

Then there was Restaurant B. The food was actually not very good. But the host and wait staff were almost as good as Restaurant A. So, although the food in Restaurant A was far superior, we were willing to compromise on quality and price because we liked the people so much. We went back here, as well, but for breakfast.

Bringing this back to a law firm example, whether you are the gourmet restaurant or the decent-food variety, the interactions with the people you serve is what makes them come back. People are even less capable of judging the quality of legal work than the quality of what they eat, so it is more important for your clients to have a good experience with you and everyone they encounter at your firm.

We paid more to stay in Hotel A than Hotel F. And maybe Hotel F was going for the “edgy and you annoy me” ambiance. However, for us, we’d gladly pay more for better service. Good service doesn’t cost much. The cost is hiring the right people, investing in training them on what you expect from them, and making sure your service standards are delivered consistently across your organization. In a competitive marketplace, service will set you apart.•

Dona Stohler of S2 Law Firm Strategies provides consulting services on business development and marketing for law firms. Stohler has more than a decade of experience in the legal services industry and is the past chair of the U.S. Law Firm Group marketing committee. She can be reached at dsstohler@s2lawfirmstrategies.com or through www.S2lawfirmstrategies.com. Opinions expressed are those of the author.



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