Are You Your Firm’s Greatest Asset?

AssetWell, actually, no! You’re not its greatest asset, but you are part of its second-greatest asset, and that is something, in itself, to think about! Why? I’ll tell you later.

What, then, is your firm’s greatest asset? It’s their clients. Why? Well, without them there would be no firm, no business, no partners and no staff, because there would be no money coming in! So clients are extremely important – you don’t need to be a rocket scientist to appreciate that – as Aleksandr Orlov Meerkat would say – ‘Simples’!

Clients are important, then, and a happy client will be a client for life – it follows, therefore, that an unhappy client won’t! Making this happen (the former, not the latter, of course) in business marketing terms is called ‘customer care’. Just two small points here – a law firm is a business (and they have to involve themselves in marketing the selling of their legal services just the same as Kellogg’s has to market their selling of Corn Flakes or Heinz their Baked Beans), but whereas Kellogg’s and Heinz call their buyers ‘customers’, Lawyers call their buyers ‘clients’. So … ‘customer care’ equally means ‘client care’.

Now, there is a difference between selling a ‘product’ and selling a ‘service’. Kellogg’s Corn Flakes and Heinz Baked Beans are products, and that which Lawyers sell are called ‘services’. Think for a moment: what is the difference between buying a product and buying a service? (Pause here for fifteen seconds whilst you jot down as many differences as you can – pause even longer if you don’t have pen and paper at hand and have to go and get some). Well, here a few differences. Products are tangible and services are intangible. You can see products, you can’t see services. You can touch products, you can’t touch services. How about coming in different shapes, sizes, patterns, colours, weights, tastes, smells, feel, durability, coolness, noise levels? That’s right, all these apply to products. How about exchanging them if you don’t like them – sure, M&S will do that for you with their products, as will many other shops. How about comparing them with other similar products or altering them, swopping them, selling them on when you get fed up with them – yup! – that’s a product for you. How about services, then? Well, none of the above apply to services. Basically they are either good or they’re bad and you won’t know that until after you have purchased them!

What has all this to do with you (apart from introducing you to one of the most fascinating aspects of business, i.e. marketing)? It’s that you, as a Legal Secretary, are one of the frontline troops as far as the marketing of your firm is concerned. You have quite a bit of client contact – you often speak to clients on the telephone or in person when your boss is otherwise engaged or out of the office, or when the client telephones you direct because they don’t want to bother your boss. Here you have the opportunity to be a ray of sunshine in, perhaps, a difficult time that your client is going through. So, for a start, always wear a smile; this makes the customers relaxed and also eases their stress. Try and be calm, even when the customer is rude, and wear your smile when you explain things. Smile even when you talk on the telephone – if you smile your voice will have a smiley tone to it. It’s true!

Smiles are infectious and are a serious component of communication skills. Try this little exercise sometime: when you are walking down the street catch the eye of someone walking towards you – anyone – and smile. In the vast number of cases they will smile back. An interesting point, and as a matter of interest, in a previous article on problem solving I mentioned the fact that the right side of the brain and the left act and influence us differently. The right side of the brain is that which deals with our creativity, with light and music, colour, and pleasant things which make us smile – the left with more strenuous things like analysis, reports, logical thought, i.e. more boring things that make us frown. However, the scientists tell us, the right side of the brain controls the left side of the body and the left side of the brain the right side of the body (this is why, they tell us, that left-handed people are, generally speaking, more artistic in one form or other). So why am I telling you this? For this reason: when you speak on the telephone, put the telephone receiver to your left ear (and smile) if you want to come over as reasonable and nice and to your right ear if you want to be decisive and strong! What rubbish, you say! No – it works!

Always try and help your firm’s clients. The word ‘no’ should not be in your vocabulary. “I wonder if you can help me, I understand that … but I have heard that…” Your reply: “I’m terribly sorry; I’m afraid that I can’t help you – Ms X is out of the office at the moment, but she should be back at five o’clock.” Wrong answer! A correct answer would be something along the lines of: (whilst smiling) “Oh, I see! Oh dear, I’m afraid that I can’t personally help you, as I honestly don’t know the answer, but give me a little time and I’ll have a look at the file and have a word with one of the partners and I’ll see if I can find out for you. I’ll get back to you as quickly as I can.” And be sure that you do get back to him or her – never, never, ever, ever say you will phone someone back (or e-mail them or whatever) and then don’t do it. Nothing (and I mean nothing) annoys a client more because, really, it’s tantamount to you having lied, or if not lied, then broken a promise.

Have you ever been to a restaurant, looked at the menu and thought, well that dish looks good, but I don’t like mashed potatoes a la beetroot marinated rosemary jus with freshly smoked lettuce, so you ask the waiter; “Is it possible to have this with sautéed potatoes and peas?” To which you receive the reply – “No, sorry, we can only serve what’s on the menu.”  Now, I suppose we accept this because it can sometimes be a normal example of UK service in general.  What the restaurant is saying is, in effect, “We aren’t really interested in what the customer wants, it’s what the chef’s ego decides that is the most important”! My late wife, at a celebrity chef’s restaurant, sent back a meal of grilled John
Dory because it was virtually raw. She was told, “The chef says it isn’t raw. If you don’t like it you’ll have to order something else, but you’ll still have to pay for it”! I don’t need to ask you which restaurant we never went to again! It’s so different in some European countries. In southern Spain, for example, if you say to a waiter (I’m not being discriminatory here, by the way, because in the south of Spain there are far more waiters in restaurants than there are waitresses and, also I don’t know how to spell waitperson) “Is it possible that … ?” You will invariably get the reply, “Of course!”

That is the attitude that you should cultivate with clients – “I’m here to serve you as best I can, and I’ll do whatever is possible with a genuine smile on my face – because without you and our other clients we wouldn’t exist.”

There are two types of customers – internal and external. So far I’ve talked about external clients: those to whom we owe our living. But there are also what are called internal clients – those people we come across every day in the course of our business and with whom we have to interrelate, such as the other members of the firm, other solicitors and staff in other firms with whom we are dealing, other businesses, the Court officers, the Land Registry staff, Tribunals, Companies House, etc. We should treat them all in like manner. Without their co-operation life is made difficult, and if our life is made difficult through them it will ultimately affect our clients. There’s a saying: “It’s who you know that makes things go”, so be nice, friendly, polite and helpful to those ‘who’ persons and you will reap what you sow. I recollect a matrimonial case that I had on some while ago. I was acting for the husband and this very difficult lady solicitor was acting for the wife, and when I say difficult the Walt Disney figure of Cruella de Vil (in 101 Dalmatians) springs to mind. She was extremely unhelpful, abrupt and condescending. Think of something nasty, and that was her. She would not give an inch on anything, and once when speaking to her on the telephone I became so exasperated that I slammed the ‘phone down on her. As soon as I had done it I realised that I should never have done so! I knew I should never have been so rude as to do that – it was neither helpful to my client nor was it professional – so I immediately ‘phoned her back and apologised profusely for my rudeness. She accepted the apology and, believe it or not, we got on quite well after that.

I know some clients can be a pain in the neck, but that doesn’t mean that you must be as well. I know that we have lives outside the office, and that sometimes things in that life might get us down, but might I suggest – leave your home life at home. No client needs to be affected by the fact that you are having a bad day or have issues at home. Once you step into the office, smile, and remember that in the office you represent not only your firm, which you no doubt honestly have a great respect for, but you also represent something much wider – the whole legal profession. You should be justly proud of it, for nowhere else in the entire world does it come any better!

Of course, the best customer service is much more than just being polite and helpful, but it can be summed up by putting yourself in your customer's shoes, so to speak, so you really know where it pinches. Everybody loves comfort, so do all you can to keep your customer comfortable and, of course, smile whilst you’re doing it.

Rachel Clacher is the co-founder of Moneypenny, the UK's leading telephone answering service. In 2000, Rachel and her brother Ed Reeves pooled their convictions about customer service and teamwork – and Moneypenny began. Today, Moneypenny’s strength lies in its extraordinary people and a passion to exceed expectations. The exceptional calibre of Moneypenny’s team and the technology that supports them has been recognised by a Queen’s Award for Enterprise and Innovation and being nominated by the Sunday Times as one of the Best 100 Places to Work.

Moneypenny’s 1 of 10 Commandments reads as follows:

‘Treat others as you would want to be treated’. It’s written in various places, but as a business, only by living and breathing this commandment, towards our clients and each other, do we make this ‘ideal’ a reality.

Because, as a company, we strive to do things differently, we often come across examples of good and bad customer service from personal experience. I’ve been astounded at some of the recent customer service examples voiced by members of our team, one of which I feel compelled to share with you now!

Give or take seven years ago, Sabina bought a new Chasseur pot. At some point whilst taking it out of its box, she noticed a 10-year guarantee. Now I don’t know about you, but Sabina and I are not the type of people to keep paperwork that long. Seven years later, and a dirty big chip the size of a 10p piece got Sabina thinking about how committed Chasseur would be to upholding their kind guarantee. Treading a careful line between disappointment and regret, Sabina regaled her tale via the email address on the website, expecting a nameless, faceless rebuff to her claim.

To her immense amazement, what came back was a very nice email from a lady called Amanda at Chasseur. Yes, the Operations Manager had looked at the pictures, the pot was indeed faulty, and could Sabina please choose a colour from the website so that they could replace it the next day.

Instantly, Sabina’s impression of Chasseur was transformed. The fact that the product was faulty paled into insignificance; it was their customer service that left a lasting impression.

Compare this with my recent experience when I contacted my mobile telephony account manager about the shocking service I received from their so-called ‘dedicated customer service team’. A full 35 minutes arguing about the finer points of who was right and who was wrong, and not once did the person on the other end of the phone say: ‘Sorry’. Sorry is such a simple word; it’s easy to use, and it means so much.

Often it’s not the mind-set of the company that’s at fault. After all, which brand in their right minds would have a policy that says: ‘Argue with the caller and do not ever say sorry’. It’s making sure that the basics are in place – that the right people are representing your company; people who can put themselves in their customers’ shoes and think: ‘How would I feel?’ Without people who actually care, customer service is just a rigid policy written down somewhere on a piece of paper. In the right hands, however, it’s your living, breathing, walking advert with the power to leave a lasting impression of your business.

I started by stating that you, as a member of your firm’s staff, are not its greatest asset, but you are a close second. Clients are necessary to bring in income, but you are necessary to help do the work that the clients want done so that they will pay your firm for its services, which, in turn, pays your salary. You are, therefore, valuable to your firm and your value increases or decreases according to how you do your job. Part of your job, behind the scenes so to speak, is to ensure that you, in what you do, provide your clients with exceptional service so that when their business with your firm is over, you have helped to convey to them the impression that if ever they needed legal help in the future, they will know where to come.