Smart lawyers have smartphones
In my CLE on customer service, I reveal a very simple formula for satisfying customers. Know what they expect, and then manage those expectations. The formula is certainly simple, but we all know that it is much easier said than done.
Expectations of communication problems
One expectation covered in the CLE is communication problems. I’m talking about managing customer expectations of returning phone calls and emails, of course. Everybody does. But what about the expectation that your message will actually be received? I think it’s safe to say that when a client leaves a message via voicemail or a receptionist, the client reasonably assumes that the attorney will get the information in a few hours. Certainly, that has always been the case with telephones. (When the call will be returned is another issue beyond the scope of this post.)
What about emails? This is an expectation that has changed significantly in recent years. The reason? The popularity of smartphones. I got my first cell phone many years ago when most professionals were buying them for the first time. Until this year, however, I stubbornly refused to upgrade my cell phone to a smartphone. Two reasons. First, I prefer to keep my technology needs simple. Why buy a phone with all these fancy features that you thought you would never use when all you wanted was a phone to talk to people? It never bothered me having to wait a few hours to be in front of my computer to see how much money I was losing on the stock market that day. Second, it never ceases to amaze me how rude people are to their smartphones. People check emails at the most inappropriate times. I knew I would be tempted to do the same and vowed not to become one of those people.
Joining the 21st century
So what made me change my mind? Earlier this year I was scheduled to meet a coaching client at a local coffee shop at 7:30 a.m. This attorney was apparently late as he still did not show up at 7:50 a.m. Then I called his cell phone number to see what it was up to. Turns out he was ill and had emailed around 6:00 am apologizing for the late notice and letting me know that he was unable to meet with me.
My initial reaction was that my client was not particularly considerate. He should have called me on my cell phone and left me a message. Did you really think that I always checked my email from my home computer first thing in the morning? I usually do, but that day I couldn’t. On further reflection, I realized that the question I really should have asked myself was: “Did my client have a reasonable expectation that he would receive his email before he left my home? The answer is yes. It was reasonable for my client to expect me to I would have a smartphone and that your message would be received. After all, an overwhelming majority of my coaching clients have smartphones. Well, duh … don’t you assume I have one too?
Lawyers must look beyond their own individual universe when deciding to purchase certain devices. In my pre-smartphone era, I was largely unaware that as smartphones gained popularity, emails were frequently used to leave messages. In my universe, I thought that smartphone users were sending emails in a more conventional way. I usually check my emails every few hours from my computer and rarely do I receive an email that requires an immediate response. Responding within hours is usually sufficient. I didn’t realize that so many people with smartphones use email in the same way that I use the phone; to leave messages that are received shortly after they are sent.
Do you have a smart phone? The latest ABA survey indicates that 25% of lawyers do not. Many of your customers assume yes and expect their emails to be read promptly. I paid the price of not having a smartphone. If one of your customers sends you an email and your failure to receive the information causes adverse consequences for your customer, you too will pay the price: a dissatisfied customer.
Which one do you have? Talk to 75% of attorneys who have one. That is essentially what I did. I spoke with my coaching clients and got many opinions. Fast answer. Everyone has their preferences and their reasons. There is no one size fits all. I have an iPhone and I really like it, but that’s me. The important thing is not what you buy, but that you buy one.