by Bradley W. Miller, Burton Law LLC
I have been going to my barber now for several years. When I moved across town a few years ago, I needed to find someplace closer to home to get my haircuts. I ultimately settled on “Howard” (it seems every good barber has a name like Howard or Fran) because I passed his shop every day going back and forth to the office and at lunch time – a great example of the importance of location. Each time my hair starts getting long and I need another trim, I consider trying to find another barber – one who can make me look just like George Clooney – but ultimately, finding a different barber isn’t high on my priority list and I head back to Howard out of convenience.
A couple of weeks ago I stopped by Howard’s to get a haircut prior to an upcoming presentation. As I sat in the waiting area, magazine in hand, I looked up now-and-then to watch Howard in action and judge how long until my turn. On this occasion, I noticed Howard’s hands were slightly trembling as he brought the electric trimmer across the customer’s head. I will admit I was a little worried as Howard dusted off the now-empty chair and beckoned me over.
Now I know that hair will grow back – that is what keeps barbers in business after all. I also know that you can always find another barber to fix a bad haircut. So I wasn’t so much worried about how I would look. No, what caused my white-knuckled grip on the armrest was Howard wielding a straight razor around my ears.
Before I knew it though, the haircut was complete and I rose from the chair with both ears still firmly attached. I reached into my wallet and handed Howard my credit card. Realizing I didn’t have any cash to use for a tip, I told him he could go ahead and add the tip to the cost of the haircut. Unfortunately, he had already run the card and completed the transaction.
“Go ahead and run it again for the tip,” I said, feeling terrible at the idea of stiffing him for a tip.
“No, don’t worry about it,” Howard replied.
“You sure?” I questioned.
“Yeah. We’ll get it next time.”
I am not very chatty when I am sitting in the barber chair. Some guys talk about the weather or sports or their most recent vacations, but I figure the barber is there doing work and I don’t want to distract him. I have never really spoken with Howard outside of explaining how I want to look like George Clooney, but due to genetics, will settle for a little off the top and sides. However, on this occasion I walked out of the shop knowing that, no matter how bad my haircut was, I would be back to see Howard for my next haircut.
A Bad Haircut isn’t the End of the World
The reason I am going to go back to Howard has nothing to do with how my haircut turned out. Rather, it is because of how he made me feel as I walked out of his shop. Yes, there was a small sense of obligation, but that day I felt that I was a person to him and not just a job or a two-dollar tip. He knew that providing good customer service was more important than getting a tip that day.
As lawyers, it is very easy to get caught up in trying to provide the best outcome for our clients. After all, doing good work on behalf of your clients is important. But doing good legal work is expected of you. What is not, and what can separate you from the competition, is going above and beyond the expectations of your client.
As much as we would like to think otherwise, lawyers don’t control the outcome of the work we do for clients. No matter how good of case you might have, with the law, facts, and policy all on your side, you aren’t going to win them all. Even if you think you have drafted an iron-tight contract that will keep your client completely protected for years to come, disputes will invariably arise.
And you know what? Clients don’t care. They know that they won’t always win, that things won’t always turn out favorably for them. But if you provide great service to them, they will appreciate it and come back to you with their next legal issue, regardless of the outcome. If you treat them like just another on a long list of clients though, not returning phone calls promptly or making sure they understand what value you are providing them, chances are good you won’t hear from them again. No matter how great of an outcome you are able to get for them. Because there will always be another lawyer down the road who can get them that same result, and probably at a lower cost. The difference between you and the lawyer or firm next door is the personalized service you can provide.
You can get a good haircut almost anywhere. The barbers with the most loyal customers, and who are the most successful, though, are those who provide exceptional customer service. Why is Zappos so successful, with legions of faithful followers? There are other places you can get shoes just like the ones Zappos sells. However, Zappos’ legendary customer service, including liberal return policy, is second to none.
If you want loyal clients in your practice, ones that not only come back again and again but refer you to others, you too must provide exceptional service. Value them as a client and not just as a source of legal fees. And be careful not to nip an ear in the process.