Walk a mile in their shoes

Lee Cockerell worked for Disney for many years as the executive vice president for operations at Walt Disney World. During his tenure, he helped develop a program for Disney managers designed to help them improve their work (and earn promotions). It was called “Performance Excellence” (not a very catchy title for a creative organization), and I had the opportunity to listen to some of Lee’s presentations given as part of that program.

One of the stories Lee told was about when he worked for Marriott and observed a bed sheet with a big iron burn mark on it that was about to go into a guest room. He stopped the housekeeper and told her to get rid of the sheet. He then took the opportunity to coach her and suggested she think about what the family staying in that room would think when they saw the burn mark on the sheet. Lee pointed out that the family would be disappointed when instead the housekeeper should want the family to be pleased with the work she did.

Lee told another story about an experience in a program at Disney that they call “Cross U.” In that program, managers and high level executives work a full shift on the front lines. They flip burgers, help people in and out of ride vehicles, and do all the other work. One year, Lee was assigned to make French fries. Lee acknowledged that this was not one of the more glamorous jobs at Disney World, but he thought about how he’d want the people who got his fries to react when they saw them. They could either think “wow, those fries look great” or they could think “those fries look pretty crummy.” Lee then made it a point to pay close attention to the cooking time so that every batch of fries was cooked perfectly.

In both of these stories, Lee asked the housekeeper and himself to stand in the shoes of the guest. The guest’s experience should always be top-notch, but managers won’t know if it is if they don’t walk in the guest’s shoes. Lee always encouraged managers to walk through the park like a guest—not coming in the back entrance, but getting in line in the main turnstiles or standing in line for an attraction.

When’s the last time you sat for a little while in your waiting room to see how your client sees it? Are the magazines current, or do you have year-old news magazines that look like they’ve seen better days? Have you called your main switchboard (perhaps using an unfamiliar phone number so no one knows it’s you) to find out what clients hear when they call? (Consider doing this when your primary person is on break and another staff member is filling in. Clients should have a consistent experience.)

Taking some time to view things from the client’s perspective is a wise move that is easy to do. Sadly, it’s often overlooked.

Fire your receptionist!

After you’ve fired your receptionist, if he or she is doing a great job, immediately rehire the person with a new title: Director of First Impressions.

A number of months ago I read about the idea of a director of first impressions somewhere. I mentioned it to the receptionist in our firm (who handles a tough job really well), and it made her feel better about her job.

Too many professional offices give little thought to the receptionist Director of First Impressions. Yet it’s this employee who is the first contact our clients have with us. This employee is the one who sets the tone with a friendly smile (or a grumpy frown). This employee is the one who updates you that the person you’re going to see is running a few minutes late (or forgets that you even walked in the door).

Some time spent training the Director of First Impressions about the importance of the job and your expectations of how he or she will interact with clients will go a long way to improving your practice. It’s a small investment that can pay big returns. And if you think the idea is ridiculous, then why does a local credit union put a sign on its reception desk identifying the employee as the Director of First Impressions? I’d say the credit union’s president doesn’t think the idea is ridiculous.

How Disney’s mindset lays the foundation for great service

Think for a moment about the last time you went into a big box store like Best Buy. If you need help with something you bought, where do you go? To the counter labeled “customer service.”

If you’ve visited a Disney resort, try to think where the customer service desk is located. If you’re there now while you’re reading this, ask one of the Cast Members where the customer service desk is.

There isn’t one.

If you ask a Cast Member to point you to “customer service,” you’re going to be directed to the Guest Relations office or desk. Disney does not ever use the term “customer,” and it eschews the idea of “customer service.”

Instead, Disney’s philosophy is that every visitor is not a customer. Instead, every visitor is a guest. Is there a difference? Think about it. What do you want as a customer? A product in exchange for your money. It’s a business transaction, nothing more. Does Disney simply want to take the money from its customers? While Disney is happy to take your money, Disney wants more than that. Disney wants to build a long-term relationship with you. Part of the way they do that is by treating you as a guest in their resort—just as you would treat a guest in your home. This idea goes back to Walt Disney himself.

How does this idea apply to the law practice? You probably already know the answer: We lawyers will benefit most by building a long-term relationship with our clients. When they come to see us, we should treat them as guests: with top-notch manners, a warm smile, a cup of coffee.

Just as Disney thinks of its customers as guests, we need to think of our clients as something more than that. A client is someone we do work for in exchange for money. I haven’t found the right word to replace “client” yet, but I’m open to suggestions.

Why Disney is your competition nightmare

“What? Disney? A competition nightmare for my law practice? Give me a break!”

No, I won’t give you a break on this one. Your competition nightmare is not your rival law firm’s best lawyer. It’s not the lawyer down the street. It’s not the lawyer who has the A-list clients. It’s Disney. Or maybe FedEx. Or any number of other service-oriented companies that your clients do business with.

Think about it: we all have experiences where we’ve received great service. We remember those, and we subconsciously (or consciously) compare that great service with other service experiences we have. It might happen when you’re choosing between two restaurants. In one you got great service, the other one gave you mediocre service. Which one are you most likely to go back to?

Clients have similar experiences. They’ve visited a Disney resort, or they’ve used FedEx. While a client isn’t choosing between a lawyer and Disneyland, clients will inevitably compare the service they get from a lawyer to the service they get at a Disney resort.

Over the next several articles, we’ll look at how Disney works its magic to deliver great customer service and how those principles can be applied in the law office.

[What does this have to do with law tech? Not much, but this blog does say it covers “practice hacks,” so I figure this series falls within the blog’s mission. Plus, as some of you know, I’m a huge Disney geek, so I’ll find a way to justify this series.]

A lesson in customer service for all professionals

Yesterday was the day for my annual physical exam. While I enjoy chatting with my internist, certain elements of the annual physical are less than enticing. Nevertheless, I arrived at 1:35 for my 1:45 appointment at an office that’s part of the South Bend Clinic practice. I checked in at the front desk, and then I took a seat in the waiting room.

An elderly couple came in and sat near me, and I heard them say “he’s running an hour behind.” They didn’t say which doctor in this multi-physician office they were seeing, but I began to wonder if it was mine.

As 2:00 rolled around and I was still sitting there, I began to figure that the late-running doctor was indeed mine. Okay, this isn’t great, but I have my iPad. I’ll make the best of it. The elderly couple and I both remained in the waiting area for some time.

It wasn’t long before 2:15 came and went. And then 2:30. Followed by 2:45. Shortly before 3:00 I saw a young man arrive at the check in desk and say he was there for his 3:00 appointment with the same doctor I was to see. I silently hoped for him that he brought a sandwich. The elderly couple was called in (wait a minute—I was there first!) for their appointment. I saw another patient who had been waiting for some time go to the front desk to ask, and he too was told the doctor was running behind.

At 3:05, the young man who had a 3:00 appointment with my doctor was called in. At that point I wondered what was up. So, I went to the front desk, where the following conversation took place:

“Can I help you?”

“Yes. I’m hoping you can help me understand something. I have a 1:45 appointment with Dr. S., and I’ve been sitting in the waiting area. I was seated where I could see a gentleman arrive a little before 3:00 for his appointment, and he was called back a few moments ago. I guess I’m trying to figure out why I haven’t been called back for my appointment.”

“I…don’t…know. Let me go find out.”

A few moments later she came back and explained that there had been a “mistake” and somehow my name hadn’t been crossed off some list or something. I should have a seat and they’d be with me soon. It’s now 3:15.

At this point I’m not a happy patient, but rescheduling isn’t going to do me any good. I’ve already lost half a day at the office. I might as well wait.

A few minutes later I was called back. The nurse was apologetic, as was the doctor (who admitted it was a little embarrassing to have me “lost” in the waiting room). By then I was content to be getting my physical underway, so I was no longer in the mood to bark at anyone. Besides—the nurse and the doctor weren’t the ones at fault. It was the person at the front desk who checked me in (not the same individual that I spoke with to find out what was going on) who was at fault. In the overall scheme of things, being lost in the waiting room was an inconvenience and frustration. It was not like I’d just lost a jury trial.

As I thought about this event, I couldn’t help but compare how this medical practice operates with how my law practice operates. Each day, I look at my schedule to see what’s on the calendar. Court appearances, appointments, or those blessed times when I  have nothing scheduled and I can work on projects. Like anyone else, I take note of when people are supposed to have appointments with me and keep those in mind.

When an appointment doesn’t show, I begin to wonder about it. Did I mis-calendar something? Have I been stood up?

The one thing I do—which is the one thing my doctor’s office didn’t do—after 10 or 15 minutes is check in the waiting room to see if my appointment is there waiting for me. It’s entirely possible that our receptionist could become swamped and forget to buzz me and let me know my appointment has arrived. It’s also possible I’m down the hall, in the restroom, on the phone, whatever. Word might not get to me that my client is waiting for me. So when someone hasn’t shown for their appointment, I check to see if they are there. If so, I immediately go see them. If not, then I figure they are not going to show.

At my doctor’s office, if it was the regular practice for the doctor’s assistants to keep tabs on whether people have shown up for their appointments, someone could have seen it was 2:00 or 2:05, observed that I was apparently not there, but nevertheless stuck her head into the waiting area to call my name. It’s not hard to do, it takes little time, and it helps avoid the possible grumpy patient—not to mention the embarrassment of “losing” a patient in the waiting room.

The lesson here is simple. Don’t assume that whatever system you have for notifying you of arrivals will work every single time. If someone appears to be 10 or 15 minutes late, go ask if that person is waiting for you. Or have your assistant do it. Check the waiting room. The person covering the reception desk while your regular receptionist is getting some water may not know who has arrived. Don’t assume your notification system has worked. Checking to see if an appointment is in your waiting room takes a couple of minutes. That small effort can go a long way toward keeping your client satisfied and not sending the potential client the wrong message.