What Law Firms Can Learn from Hotels: Perspectives on Service

by Pamela Woldow
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What do impeccable client service and pornography have in common? As Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart put it nearly 50 years ago (in Jacobellis v. Ohio), “I can’t define it, but I know it when I see it.”

I saw it this week in Chicago, in the form of my extraordinarily pleasant stay at the Trump International Hotel. As someone whose annual travel mileage is well into six figures, I have seen a broad spectrum of accommodations, and some of the digs have been pretty fine. But nothing, nowhere compares with the planning, responsiveness and attention to detail manifest in the guest experience I enjoyed this week. And I swear I’m not being paid to say this.

It didn’t hurt that the aesthetic of the hotel and of my room were to my taste. I am an unabashed modernist/minimalist, and this place pushed all my design and technology buttons. Subtle, soothing and beautifully coordinated paint colors. Furnishings and linens of superior but understated quality. A built-in Sub-zero refrigerator and full working Miehle kitchen, crystal clear (and free!) wi-fi, an in-room ice-maker, an additional television positioned subtly as a dark black square in the middle of my bathroom mirror. Yes, the physical surroundings were pretty jaw-dropping. But, the most outstanding aspect was the service that the professionals provided.

Why am I writing about this in a legal blog? It’s not just because of the physical plant. I’m throwing rose petals Trump International’s way because lawyers and law firms can learn some valuable lessons from them. Despite every law firm’s claim that it is unique, that its lawyers are unique, and that its work is uniquely excellent, clients generally regard law firms as being pretty much the same. It is surprisingly hard to differentiate your law firm from its competitors, and often it’s the smallest details that resonate with clients and convince them to select you.

The Trump International’s attitude toward all aspects of the client experience clearly reflected several principles that are equally applicable to superior legal service delivery:

  1. They see the service experience through the client’s eyes and anticipate every conceivable priority, need and eventuality.
  1. They know what differentiators will make a lasting positive impression, no matter how minor they may seem.
  1. Whatever events they can’t anticipate, they respond to quickly, effectively and cheerfully.
  1. They personalize and individualize service to an exceptional degree.

An example of #1: I know now that I am not the first person to forget to pack the power cord for my laptop. I know this because when I inquired whether there was any chance they might know where I could buy a power cord, I was shown a well-organized drawer that had every type of cord and fitting for every possible style of laptop, iPad, smartphone, reading tablet or other charge-dependent device. The concierge provided complete relief as he said, “if we don’t have the cord to fit your device, we will solve the problem by getting one that does fit, so there is no need to worry.”

An example of #2: The bar’s extraordinary Manhattans are not made with maraschino cherries out of a jar. They are finished with “real” cherries that have been macerated in cognac. Oh, yes, you can taste the difference, and you willingly pay a premium price for a truly superior product (or service).

An example of #3: I’m doing some remodeling at home, and I was quite taken with the paint and trim colors of my hotel room. My husband scoffed when I said I intended to ask the hotel for the brand, color and computer code of the hues. “They run a hotel, Pam, they don’t build it.” He was as astonished as I at the concierge’s response. “I don’t have that information at my fingertips, but I will get it for you as soon as possible.” Thirty minutes later, he had contacted the build-out department, gathered the information and personally typed it out for me.

The fourth principle was much in evidence at every human touch point: check-in, restaurant and bar service, room service, concierge, even baggage handling. They were responsive, focused on what I needed, and at all times gracious. They called me by my name. They made eye contact. They made me feel important, even though my stay was for a single night.

I’d like to live in that hotel, but I had to accept that my perfect client service experience would only last 24 hours. Equally important, however, as a client, I’d love always to be treated with the foresight, insight, respect, civility and can-do attitude that marked every aspect of my experience with Trump International – from soup to nuts to Manhattans.

In today’s “New Normal,” legal clients are demanding better service, more responsiveness, and an emphasis on value as they define it, not as the service provider chooses to deliver it. Wouldn’t it be grand – and beneficial for business development – if clients didn’t have to ask, if outside counsel anticipated their needs, accommodated foreseeable events and placed the highest priority on responding quickly and collaboratively to unexpected events?

Written by:

Pamela Woldow
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