A few years ago, law firm Paul Hastings re-titled their administrative assistants to “client service assistants.”  Why? To emphasize that the job of all Paul Hastings employees is ultimately to serve the clients.

I am not a Paul Hastings client, so I can’t tell you whether this translated to better client service, but I applaud the approach.  It is straight out of the Zappos’ playbook created by its founder Tony Hsieh, and Zappos gets service right.

In his book, Delivering Happiness, Hsieh details the different approaches Zappos uses to instill the client service mentality into its culture.  The first is to make customer service a priority for the whole company.  Another is to make Wow a verb that is part of the company’s everyday vocabulary. And my favorite: view each call as an investment in building a customer service reputation.

These methods are highly applicable to the administrative staff in the legal industry.[i]  Three examples of what this would look like if a law firm or other service firm put them into action include:

The Admin/Client Service Person Who Always Answers the Phone

When people need to talk to their attorney, they often really need to talk to their attorney; however, when they call, they frequently get voicemail.  They are forced to leave a message with no idea when they will get a return phone call and no way of communicating the urgency of their request.  Their anxiety level increases until they hear back from said attorney, which could be in five minutes or five days.

The client is ultimately going to understand if the attorney could not get back to them for a good reason, but wouldn’t it be so much better to alleviate the client’s anxiety at its onset?  Give the client the option to “zero out” of voicemail and speak with the client service assistant.  Then make darn sure the assistant answers the phone or returns the phone call right away.  The assistant can ease the client’s mind by setting an expectation as to when they will be able to talk with their attorney or by connecting them to another attorney at the firm if the matter is urgent.

This sounds intuitive and elementary.  I can assure you, it is not.  If you doubt me, ask your clients what their experience has been when trying to reach an attorney at your firm.  Maybe even include a question about phone call experiences in client interviews.  See what you hear.

[Side note: I wrote a whole blog post here on the importance of just answering the dang phone.]

The Admin/Client Service Person Who Knows the Clients

I have had some amazing administrative help in my career, and some of the best support came from the people who knew my clients.  These people looked my clients up on LinkedIn, kept notes in my Outlook on the clients’ birthdays, alma maters, and likes/dislikes, and then used that information so that we could better serve the clients.

As an example, I had an assistant who set up her own Google alerts on some of our clients.  She would give me a heads up if an individual or a company was in the news and the newsworthy event warranted a phone call or other recognition from me/us.  This was so appreciated by my clients and me!

The Proactive Need-Recognizer

When you can go beyond the first and second levels of customer service (meeting expectations and meeting desires) to the third level – meeting unrecognized needs, you increase client loyalty.  The client service assistant who goes to the third level and meets clients’ unrecognized needs increases the stickiness of that client’s relationship with the firm exponentially.

How do you meet unrecognized needs?  Next time your out of town client is coming to town for a meeting, deposition or other business, the assistant could reach out to the client to see if they need recommendations on hotels/restaurants/transportation.  If the client really won’t need a rental car for this stay, the assistant could help them understand how a combination of Uber and walking could save them time and money.

The assistant should also ask the client if they will need some place to work while they are in town and either arrange hoteling space in your offices, or help locate other space that meets their needs.  If it’s raining when they arrive in town, send a (branded) umbrella to their hotel to be there when they check in.  If they are flying into Chicago in winter from Florida, send gloves.  Unrecognized needs à met.  Or in Tony Hsieh terms: Wow.

And then, celebrate the Wow.  Tell the firm about the exceptional client experience created by your client service assistant.  You will encourage your assistant and motivate many others.

Three Minutes

If your firm is already doing these three things, I just wasted three minutes of your time.  Honestly, that’s the best case scenario.  If your firm is not, you’ve got some opportunities.  Three minutes well spent.


[i] Note that I am not stating that client service is not a priority for the attorneys.  Rather, I am focusing on the opportunity to better leverage legal assistants in the client service role.

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