What is “Service”?

A good friend of mine and I recently spoke on the question of what is “service”?  He is in the hotel industry where he and his staff deliver one-on-one direct service while providing a very tangible product to customers.  Based on the “real-time” exposure to his staff and the condition of the hotel product they are offering, his customers have immediate awareness and appreciation for the service being offered.  At his hotel, much time is spent training the staff on how to enhance the customer experience, while they are staying at the hotel.

I am in a slightly different business.    As a lawyer, I disseminate advice, resolve my client’s problems, and help my clients close their transactions.  I don’t offer a physical product.   Given the nature of the representation, which can go on for months, unlike my friend who runs a hotel, my clients do not necessarily immediately see the results of my advice, and I don’t necessarily get immediate feedback from my clients.  They don’t fill out guest questionnaires about the rooms, amenities, and the level of courteousness of the staff, etc.  Over time, things work out or deals close, and when clients are pleased, they come back or refer their friends and business associates – sometimes, months or years later.

The difference between what my friend’s hotel offers and what I offer got me thinking.  While I don’t offer a physical product, what is consistent about the two businesses is that we both offer an experience.  In his situation, his customers experience the product and also experience the service being offered by his staff.  In my situation, my clients experience “how” I provide legal advice.  With professional services, the service element is what patients have termed their doctors’ “bedside manners”.

Professional service providers often focus on “results” in their ads and promotional materials – and yes, that is a big part of the service – and in fact some would contend that it is the only thing that matters.  Having been a member of different professional service organizations, I find that there is a great deal of emphasis on winning the case, getting deals done, etc., but unlike the training that goes on at my friend’s hotel,  there is little emphasis on “how” the services are to be delivered in the interim.  Most professional services organizations seemingly rely on the recruitment process to hire employees with certain personality traits, but once hired, little time or effort is expended on training to deal with clients and handle situations. While results are important and it is the reason a client initially seeks professional services, I am not sure that obtaining positive results is the only way to keep clients in the long-term.  Don’t get me wrong – results are important and key.  However, if the client experience leading up to the result is negative, the client is more likely to consider other alternatives the next time around.  On the other hand, if the client experience is generally positive, the client is more likely to come back.   So, the bottom line is that rather than just focusing on the result, a professional advisor has to be aware of how her services are being delivered and perceived by the client. So, how does one try to provide good service as a service provider?  Here are some ideas:

1.  Respect Your Client’s Time.   Don’t be late or if you are going to be late, let them know.  I have found that clients are very understanding when you communicate with them and give them the “head’s up”.  Remember, clients are busy and they, too, have deadlines.  If you leave them in the dark, they then have to “juggle” things around to accommodate you delay.  That would not be delivering good client service.

2.  Listen to Your Client.  A lot of professionals I know like to babble on about their own expertise and how good they are – your clients know you are good.  Otherwise, they would have gone somewhere else.  So, stop selling and get to work!  The client has an issue that needs to be resolved.  Listen up and see what they want to do about it and see how you can help them, and stop talking about how you have helped someone else.  At the end of the day, clients only really care how you can help them.

3.  Try to Understand Your Client.  You can more effectively represent your client and meet their needs if you have a sense of who they are and how they work.  Do they want more assurance?  Do they like to deliberate and make their own decision or seek others for input?  How do they communicate with you – this should be a clue on whether you pick up the phone or send an email.   Figuring these things out on the front end will give you a head start on how to best handle your communications with your client – so that you can optimize your contact with them.

4.  Be Responsive.  There is nothing worse than having with a problem that needs resolution and feeling like your advisors are not available.  Even if you cannot speak with your client then, send an email letting them know when you will next be available.  Your client will appreciate your efforts and you’ve also managed their expectations.

5.  Be Courteous and be authentic – but Focus on Job.  Always keep you client’s interest as the primary concern.  Treat your clients the way you would want to be treated – not exactly the same way, as you and your client are different people.  However, treat your client with the level of courteousness and authenticity that you would expect, from a services provider.  Remember, they are clients, and not friends, and they are coming to you to get things done.  One of my competitors (who is also a good friend), and with whom I share common clients, likes to share his exotic and elaborate vacations with his friends, and yes, clients, too.  Our mutual clients have made passing remarks about this to poke fun at him.  He obviously goes overboard and his clients see his “sharing” as “bragging”.  Not a good sign!

Only focusing on the “results” will not necessarily get professional service providers repeat business.  So, why not learn from my hotel friend – put a little care in the client experience to ensure that the delivery of the service is done with concern and respect for your client’s state of mind, along with getting clients the best result possible.  Professional service providers deliver “results”, but the delivery of the result is a process that occurs between the service provider and the client, and the more pleasant the process is, the more likely the client will return in the future.

 

 

 

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