The Bizzle

"Saving your ass since 1999"

When client care goes bad: a cautionary tale

This is a fairly mundane tale of client care gone wrong, but I offer it up in the hope that readers may find it instructive or, failing that, amusing.

This afternoon we received an email from a firm that we use for specialist debt recovery work, about a defence received on a new instruction. As an exercise in client care, it was not a success.

The first odd thing was that we didn’t know the sender. For the last couple of years our defended actions have been handled exclusively by two named fee earners, so that was a small surprise. 

I don’t really mind if they want to assign a new fee earner to our account. But it would be nice to be told about it first, even it’s by way of an introductory email.

Then the subject line of the email was just the firm’s internal reference number. We don’t use their numbers, because we have our own reference numbers that we provide with all new instructions. If our reference number isn’t in the subject line, then it’s harder for us to find all emails about a particular matter quickly. 

When we phoned to have a chat with our new fee earner, he told us that their other clients prefer to have just the firm’s reference number in the subject line of emails. That’s nice, but what’s it got to do with me? 

Our third surprise was to be asked to provide a copy document that the other side had asked for in disclosure. Hang on, we thought, haven’t we already provided that document? 

Ah, said our man, we have a paperless office up to the point that a matter gets passed to the defended actions team, so the document hasn’t been passed to me. Ok, so your process is wrong – why is that our problem? 

On the bright side, we were reassured to find that steps had already been taken to draft a reply to Defence, weren’t we? Well, not exactly, because we have a long-standing arrangement to mitigate fees by drafting the factual sections of witness statements and other case documents ourselves.

Well, said our keen new solicitor, I’m new to your matters and I didn’t know about that arrangement. Oh, ok then – we’ll give you the training that your colleagues couldn’t be bothered to. 

So far, so what, I guess – people make mistakes, and it’s not totally the guy’s fault. But the real problem is something slightly different. 

You’ll notice that I’ve given our man’s explanations for the, ah, oversights in his email. And that’s the real point – I shouldn’t even know the reasons why it happened. I don’t want to hear about why the mistakes weren’t your fault, even if they weren’t – I want to hear that you’re sorry and that you’ll fix them.

The thing about being in a customer service business – and private practice law is a customer service business – is that your clients expect you to provide a quality service. It’s not enough to get the law right, because your competitors do that as well. You set yourself apart by providing the right service for your clients, even if what they want isn’t your standard offering.

That doesn’t mean that you can’t make mistakes – everybody and every business does. But for God’s sake, don’t talk about your internal processes, or about how your colleagues let you down, because your client doesn’t care. They just want you to put it right, without explaining or complaining. Is that so hard?

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