I have a CEO friend who says she won't hire someone who’s never had experience working in a restaurant. And she’s not in the restaurant business. She just thinks that one of the best places one can get trained in customer service is waiting tables in some form.
And whoever you are – outside counsel, litigation support staff, consultant, or in-house counsel – client service is an essential. How do you develop that skill?
I've always felt that you can learn as much going to great restaurants about customer service as you can in the Ritz Carlton's hospitality training. Great waitstaff know how to make the experience work.
Here are fifteen tips for providing great service that I learned from the restaurant business.
- Set expectations. Most disputes arise from differences in expectations. This is especially true in customer service. Helping people understand what to expect and when to expect it is critical. If you're going to share the draft brief, the client needs to know that it is a draft. If you're going to share trial exhibits in draft form with the client they need to understand the difference between the draft and final from your perspective.
- Anticipate needs. Just as you would want your server to bring you a cup with a lid for a toddler, offer your client things you know they are going to need. If they are presenting at trial, make sure they have a remote clicker. If they are using printed trial boards, make sure they have an easel.
- Don’t be clingy. I recently had a waiter who would not leave our table but just kept asking questions while I was engaged in an important business discussion. Knowing when to back off is just as important as knowing when to lean in.
- Check in from time to time. Asking how things are going is one of the simplest things waitstaff can do. We do the same in our engagements. Asking how things are going from the client perspective is one of the easiest things any of us can do.
- At the end, ask how things went. Many restaurants use comment cards to collect evaluations from diners. Most restaurants also ask how things went. You should do the in your business. Perhaps it is not a comment card and is instead a follow up lunch.
- Tell me about the specials. In litigation there may not be special offers, but you may have some tricks up your sleeve that you can share. We often share ways to save money or get the work done most efficiently.
- Stay in touch. We work hard to stay in touch with clients and reach out to new potential clients. There are many ways of doing this, but every client is unique. Find the way that your client likes to maintain contact if at all, and try to customize that experience for your client.
- Dress well and look good. We like it when our server is put together and clients like it when you are too. Look the part.
- Ensure that all your systems are working, whether client-facing or not. Most people in our industry are impatient. Few of us have tolerance for technology letdowns. Make sure your technology functions and everything works when you're near the client.
- Be up front with the client. If there's a delay in the kitchen, the waitstaff should tell the customer. The best thing to do is to explain the problem in detail and ask if there’s anything you can do to make things right for the client. In the restaurant world it might be a free drink or appetizer. Find the equivalent in your business and offer it generously. If you don't have an equivalent offer, create one or simply provide free professional time as your fall back.
- Make sure other customers are not getting in the way of great customer service. It actually bothers me when a lawyer tells me they're busy or can’t get to something because they're servicing another client. You wouldn't want to hear that from your waitstaff anymore than you want to hear from your lawyer. Insulate your clients from knowledge of other clients. Make them feel like they're the only one.
- Please take notes. I'm impressed when waitstaff try to remember an order of more than a person or two, but I am also completely stressed out that they are going to forget. So, it's just not fun for me. Writing things down in our business is just polite even if you can remember what someone is telling you.
- Status me. I like to know how things are going, and I find our clients like to know the same. If my order is coming right up, please tell me.
- Do I have the right utencils? If you serve me pie without at least a fork, I'm not going to be happy. If we send a draft PowerPoint trial presentation to our client in a version they don't have, they rightly get annoyed too. We ask first or we develop for an older version of PowerPoint.
- Say "thank you." It it such an easy thing to do, and it goes a long way. Write notes. Buy lunch. No matter what, always find a way to say it.