Posted by J Matthew Buchanan at April 11, 2005 02:15 PM
I’ve been thinking a little more about my prior ‘Texaco/Back to the Future’ post on customer service. As a short recap, I think law firm customer service, in the general sense, has slid to an all time low. The Texaco scene from Back to the Future provides a vivid indication of the depths to which customer service has slipped in general. In the scene, set in 1950s America, uniformed station attendants rush toward a car that just entered the station…looking to help the customer with whatever they need. This, of course, never happens any more. Not at gas stations or fast food restaurants. And, most disturbing to me, not in law firms.
Over the weekend, I did a little rethinking on this issue and now I’m focusing on opportunity instead of bad examples.
Why? Its simple. I think the other professions are actually worse at customer service than lawyers.
Here’s two examples that started my rethinking. In Saturday’s mail, I received two invoices from professional service providers: one from an accountant and one from a health care provider (the hospital, I think; its hard to tell who actually sent it).
The accountant’s invoice reads “March accounting services….$X.XX”. That’s it. No explanation of the services provided whatsoever. To make matters worse, I wasn’t even aware that I was a client of this particular accounting firm (they do the firm’s work, not my personal work). That’s true…I had no idea I was a client. How’s that for customer service?
And then there’s the health care provider. The invoice was for a recent visit my wife and I made to the emergency room with our newborn baby. That visit is, to date, the worst example of professional customer service that I’ve personally experienced. These guys took poor customer service to a whole new low. Everything turned out ok on this particular visit, but I remember leaving the hospital with a “what just happened” kind of feeling. During the visit, no one would give me or my wife a straight answer on the problem Not the nurses, not the physician’s assistants, and not the doctors (believe me, we asked). Two doctors argued over the ‘diagnosis’ (in front of us, by the way) and my wife and I were eventually sent home without receiving any form of treatment for our 6–week old son. Seriously, they didn’t do anything. We sat in a room for a few hours, and then they sent us home. Period. I still don’t know who won the argument.
I understand that no treatment may have been the best route. I don’t need a “product” to feel like I’ve received the benefit of professional services. But I would have appreciated a competent consultation on the matter. In fact, I think my wife and I deserved this. I suppose its possible that my insurance doesn’t cover that level of service…
I know that clients of law firms have had similar experiences. A friend of mine recently relayed an example in which his monthly litigation invoice took a huge jump recently (up, not down). Turns out, the firm handling the case had added three associates to the team. Full time. The first he had heard about his new “teammates” came via the invoice. Funny thing is, he said that he would have authorized additional resources had they approached him with a plan. But, because of the way in which he was made aware of the “need” for more resources, he was left with a negative impression about the firm.
“Will you use that firm for your next litigation.” (I love asking the obvious questions). He gave me a simple and telling response: “Absolutely not. Even if we win this one.”
So here’s the rethinking. What if we improved? What if law firms became the example of premier customer service from professional service providers? Other professionals are so poor at it that we could be the best with minimal effort. A few baby steps might do the trick…like improving invoices. And, if that’s true, think of what a giant leap or two would do….like returning phone calls and eating a little overhead once in awhile. The sky’s the limit here.