What Lawyers Can Learn From Waiters - Lessons in Exceptional Client Service

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In my experience coaching attorneys, I've found that those who have worked as wait staff in the past are often the best at delivering exceptional client service.

Why?

They’ve learned how to work for it. They understand that payment for service is not always guaranteed - it’s discretionary and based on the quality of service. 

So, what makes a waiter/waitress so good at client service? Here are a few skills they must develop to be successful:

  • Seeing the Big Picture.  A server must have their pulse on all the dynamics of the restaurant to ensure customers have a positive experience. 
  • Selling the Invisible.  Have you ever heard a waiter/waitress describe a dish to you that makes you want to order it? Servers are masterful at understanding their product offering and suggesting options based on their clients’ wants and needs. 
  • Teamwork. Servers rely on all parts of the restaurant to deliver the best product to ensure a customer’s positive experience. They understand that they must work in conjunction with others to meet the customer’s expectations.
  • Making Customer Experience Paramount. The tip they receive depends on their overall dining experience.

Is there a parallel that we can draw here between food to legal service? What would happen if our profession started moving to this type of structure where attorneys were paid in “tips” based on their service? 

I would argue that as artificial intelligence becomes more integrated into the legal industry, the commoditization of legal services could produce new, unconventional billing models. While this concept may seem unlikely, it’s certainly not incomprehensible as our industry continues to evolve and change. And it's a worthwhile mental exercise as you consider, in any service profession, what makes for good client experience.

Some suggestions on delivering exceptional client service taken straight from your local grill...

  • Get the order correct. In our jobs, accuracy is key. You must practice solid quality control measures to ensure your work product is worth the value. 
  • Keep the drinks refilled. Anticipate your clients’ needs. Don’t wait for them to ask for something--be proactive in your efforts. 
  • Smile and have a friendly disposition. A positive attitude is contagious! Think about your tone, body language and the words you use in your client interactions to ensure you are communicating the right message. 
  • Check back often. You need to check in with your clients and communicate clearly and often so they are fully kept aware as to the stage of the matter. We hear frequently from in-house counsel that they want better communication from their attorney. 
  • Remember the dressing on the side. Did something go wrong during the engagement? Now’s the time to make it right. Acknowledge the issue, take responsibility and do what you can to rectify the situation.
  • Review the bill. Clients look over bills with a fine-tooth comb. Don’t charge them for a five-minute phone call. You need to make sure the bill is truly reflective of the work that has been done. No surprises.
  • Ask for feedback. Have you ever gotten a survey to fill out after your meal? A restaurant’s management wants your feedback. We should be asking the same from our clients. The only way to know how they feel and/or make improvements for the future is to ask your clients for their feedback!

How would your clients rate your service?  How much of a “tip” do you think you might garner?

Anyone who truly wants to be a better lawyer, the kind who makes your clients want to work with you, I challenge you to get your side hustle on and spend a few weeks waiting tables. You'll learn lessons that will help you develop and cultivate relationships beyond what you ever thought possible. And, you might even have a new appreciation for your “day job.” 

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[Society 54 Co-Founder Jill Huse is renowned as a trusted professional services advisor. A certified Worldwide Association of Business Coaches Coach, Jill is highly regarded for her progressive ingenuity, research-based strategy and, most importantly, her ability to deliver results for clients.]

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