Attorney-Client shake handsHow many lawyers find fulfillment in their work?

I don’t have statistics, but based on many conversations with attorneys over the years, the number who would trumpet themselves “fulfilled” has declined over time.

A bad economy has a lot to do with that, I’m sure. But finances cannot account for all of the disappointment we hear about. After all, most people (really) are not in it just for the financial return. Something deeper must be afoot.

Insight into what may be missing appeared in a great recent post at Above the Law. In it, lawyer Brian Tannebaum examines a few ways to strengthen the lawyer–client relationship. And in so doing, he points us toward a few elements that may be lacking in many a law practice. The absence of those ingredients is not a mere annoyance. Instead, it could be a serious impediment to fulfillment and satisfaction.

Brian Tannebaum

Brian Tannebaum

Interestingly, Tannebaum suggests that the elements that could make lawyers happier may be exactly the same elements that could make clients happier.

Imagine that—there’s a connection.

“Meaning” may be too complex a concept to reduce to a blog post, but I think Tannebaum’s done a great job at it.

Here’s how he opens his post:

“Lawyers like to say, ‘I’m a lawyer, not a psychiatrist.’”

“If you’re dealing with people’s problems, you’re a lawyer and a psychiatrist. While clients understand you are the person hired to try and resolve their legal issues, the not-so subtle secret of a successful practice is a slew of clients that believe their lawyer actually gives a crap about how their legal issues are affecting their personal life.”

Read the whole post here.

And what do you think? Have you found changes that improve your clients’ experience have also improved your outlook? Are you considering any law practice changes to make your own work more satisfying?

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My alluring seminar title

I like:

  • Magazines

And I like:

  • Courtesy

OK, there may be other things that warm my heart, but these two came immediately to mind when I opened an envelope this week.

That word “envelope” should give you a hint right away that something odd was afoot. Because aside from my gas bill and various other liabilities, what else arrives in a hard-copy, snail-mail envelope?

A thank-you note, that’s what.

Happy Change of Venue Friday. Today, I relate the goodness that can flow from an old-fashioned card, and I encourage us all to try it out.

This past June, I attended the annual conference of Association Media & Publishing in Washington DC. While I was there, I presented on the topic of reader engagement. My subject matter was the annual arts competition of Arizona Attorney Magazine, and I shared our path toward increased reader involvement.

Aiming (always) to engage my audience, I took a cell-phone shot of attendees about 10 minutes before I was scheduled to start my presentation. Here they are:

The session, I think, went well (I had a ball, and no one left in the middle: success). And the rest of the conference was informative and entertaining, so I felt like I got my budget’s worth.

Here’s the cover of my PowerPoint presentation, followed by the description in the conference brochure:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And then this week, as the conference receded into my distant memory, a card arrived. It had a compelling cartoon, one that signals a love for the power of magazines (so they had me right there). Here is the cover (the cartoon is by Robert Weber for The New Yorker, 10/12/92):

And then I opened it, and it was signed by AMP’s stellar team, from Executive Director Amy Lestition right on down:

Customer service? Oh yeah. Association excellence? Uh-huh.

Here at the magazine, I try to send personal notes on a semi-regular basis. I know that authors and others appreciate it, especially when they have gone above and beyond the call of duty.

Receiving this week’s card reminded me of the power of the personal. This fall, as I construct my 2012 budget to decide where to allocate valuable professional development dollars, that thank-you card and witty cartoon are bound to remind me of a great few days of learning that I had in Washington. And more important, they will remind me of professionals who dipped into their scarce free moments to connect across the country.

Bravo.

Writing about customer service yesterday reminded me that elevation can play a role in your retail experience. My wife and I discovered that way back in the late ‘80s.

At the time, we were living on the top floor of a four-story apartment building—with no elevator. It’s routinely hot in Arizona, but Evanston, Illinois adds humidity to the mix. Who knew that temperature could play a role in purchasing?

Strolling Sherman Avenue in Evanston’s downtown one summer afternoon, we came across what we thought was a screaming deal at Copenhagen Furniture. A deeply discounted sideboard hollered to us. They were getting in new stock and wanted to “move their old product.” The price—and the delivery fee—were more reasonable than we had ever expected.

We paid and set up a delivery day. But when the agreed-upon day arrived, Kathy stayed home that morning, and then all afternoon, for a truck that never appeared.

A call revealed that someone had dropped the ball and failed to slot the trip. They agreed to waive the delivery fee, and rescheduled. Kathy had lost a day, but the company made it up with an apology and the deleted fee.

Of course, when the workers arrived, they had to schlep this thing up four stories, humidity and all. And once it was in place, they presented her with a bill—for the delivery fee.

She explained that the fee had been waived, but they insisted that their boss had said it had to be paid.

So, while the delivery crew shed perspiration, Kathy told them to haul it away, cool as a cucumber.

(I should point out that unlike me, Kathy is not a lawyer, so her steely-eyed determination didn’t come from training. Kudos to her.)

That gave the workers a revelatory moment, and they agreed to waive the fee. A success, I suppose, in the annals of customer service? Yes, but through gritted teeth.

But there are other paths to tread.

I reported last month on our dog Zeke and his continuing ear ailment. The problem lingers, and we just returned to our vet for another assessment. But Dr. Ruiz has a great bedside manner, so even when you pay for doggie antibiotics, you get an explanation, concern and support. That’s customer service.

Yesterday I wasn’t feeling well—and it was my birthday—so what better day to head to the car dealer to have some much-needed repairs done. As I have been thinking about customer service lately, I wasn’t sure it was wise to head to a car dealer—with my sinus problem, it’s possible my head would explode if someone tried to sell me aftermarket undercoating or something.

But Camelback Toyota was a pleasant surprise. I have not yet picked up the car (and so won’t review my overall customer satisfaction yet), but I do have to tell you about their new facility in Phoenix.

Camelback Toyota waiting area

Built this past year at 16th Street and Camelback Road, the building houses a tremendous customer waiting area. It has comfortable seating, a café that provides offerings from Croque Cafe, art from nearby schools, and loaner iPads available for customer use.

Upstairs, though, is the best surprise. There, they have a quieter, more relaxing area. And off to the side, there are two curtained bays, each containing a massage chair and a TV. Flick the placard to “Occupied,” and plunge into your own Shiatsu slumber.

Our version, but picture a few more dings

After delivering my car to the ministrations of the waiting technicians, I had about an hour to kill before Kathy could pick me up. So I sank into one of the chairs, whose retail price comes in somewhere near the cost of my Scion Xb, which was being repaired at that moment.

Is that uber waiting area what we can call customer service? Not really. It’s a customer amenity—and a welcome one! But I’ll know more about the service end of things when I stop by this afternoon.

In the meantime, I remember that we all have customers whom we need to keep in mind. Unless you are a hermit, you likely have a circle of people who rely on you and your work—whether at home, in the office or in the field. It is too easy to forget their needs and to focus on your immediate return on investment. That’s an error that may land you a delivery fee, for instance, but cost you the trust and respect of your colleague in the shared exchange.

A massage chair may ease some of the pain of a bad customer experience. But bad memories linger longer than an aching shoulder.

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“Each of us is a customer, and each of us has customers.”

That was the mantra I repeated to myself as I stood in my kitchen yesterday listening to the air-conditioner technician.

Here at Arizona Attorney Magazine, we try to keep the readers—our customers—in mind at all times. But how well do we do? As I played the part of a service-call customer, I got additional insight into the process.

I uttered my mantra—and other less-charitable words under my breath—in order to quell the customer-experience anger and angst all of us have felt at one time or another. As my Latin professor would have translated, life’s lesson goes something like, “I was screwed, I am screwed, I shall be screwed.”

The vulgar Vulgate aside, my dilemma was not unlike anyone’s when faced with a customer-service problem (in my case, a faulty compressor motor), deteriorating conditions (the house was approaching 90 degrees, and I considered opening windows to cool the place down), and too little information.

I’ll give you the shorthand of my customer experience—after all, who hasn’t been standing as I was in my kitchen (figuratively, I hope) 100 times?

Our A/C started going south on Saturday. It’s a five-year-old unit, so it was no longer under warranty for labor. But, like a lemming, I thought calling the company who installed it might get us a better result. I must have been suffering from sun-stroke.

Our first warning was when my wife called the company. The dispatcher made it sound like a five-year-old air conditioner is ancient. Hmmm, what did they sell us?

Saturday’s technician came out, hit the pressure regulator switch (which had tripped), and declared the unit good to go. The one valuable thing I got out of the $75 service call was education—he showed me how to remove the service panel and re-set the switch myself. I ended up doing exactly that a few times over the next few days.

By Monday, we could tell the unit was not operating well. I called Tuesday and set up another appointment. “Call my cell phone,” I told the dispatcher. “I’ll be at work, because no one is home.” She promised that someone would be at the house by 1, and that they’d call first.

You can see where this is going. I went home about 11:30 and found two messages on our machine from the technician. “You’re not there, so we can’t come out.”

By the time I got through to the office, I was told they’d have to reschedule for later in the day. But why hadn’t they called my cell phone, as they promised they would? “Oh, I must have written your number down wrong.” That’s it. No apology, no sorry you should have taken a sick day. But I did get her assurance that I would not pay another $75 service charge to fix the unfixed problem.

By the time the second technician arrived at 4:00, it was pretty hot inside. He told me the motor was shot (“Why did Saturday’s technician tell me all the parts checked out?” “I don’t know.”). And then he gave me the bill.

$300.42. Just as he promised when he first arrived—except for an addition of $5.

“What’s with the $5?” I asked.

“We waived $70 of today’s $75 service-call fee, but still charge you the $5 portion that’s diagnostic.”

“But,” I said slowly, “your office said I would not be charged the $75 today.”

“That’s just the way the system is,” he replied. “$5 isn’t much money.”

That probably wasn’t the best explanation to give someone who had two service calls in a week, a destroyed work day, and a home that felt like the tropics.

“OK,” I said evenly. “To end this visit as quickly as possible, I could pay that extra $5. But as I write the check, I’ll know your company’s a liar. And I’ll be telling the Better Business Bureau exactly that.”

Hearing that, the technician grabbed a pen.

“No problem, if that bothers you, we can take the $5 off too.” He scratched out the amount.

So I saved $5, but the added cost was having to be crabby and ruin the day of me and the technician.

Will I call that company again? What do you think?

Tomorrow, I’ll tell you a bit about some different customer experiences I just had—and what I mean by my opening line about all of us having customers.