With big ABS players circling the legal market, have ‘traditional’ law firms really grasped the importance of setting and delivering consistent service standards for their clients?
Here, MD Neil Quantick contemplates the detail with which other service providers operate, and wonders if we lawyers could learn a thing or two from fast food outlets…
My fatherly summer holiday duties started with my son and one of his chums last Friday. Morning at the golf driving range, McDonald’s for lunch, then on for an afternoon swim (I really must stop imagining I’m still a county champion – 3 stone and 25 years have definitely taken the edge off my performance). The activity pre and post burger hopefully counterbalanced the lunchtime indulgence. But, it was the lunchtime indulgence that allowed me to witness something quite special, the significance of which rather blew my mind – a lesson in salting french fries!
A lesson in salting french fries
As we sat enjoying our chosen indulgences, the manager appeared at the table next to us and began a training session with a small group of new staff (or ‘crew’ as I believe they are known). He explained various points in amazing detail. Despite the dazzling conversation displayed by my 13 year old and his chum, one thing in the training session managed to catch my ear and eye – a lesson in salting french fries. How to hold the seller, how many squirts of salt to deliver, and crucially the optimum height and angle of the seller/gun type of thing. It culminated in a magnificent demonstration over 2 empty trays – 1 the way how to do it, the other how not. There it was in all its glory – 1 tray of imaginary fries salted consistently and evenly, 1 not so. Genius!
So, how is that relevant to law firms? Well, about as relevant as it gets in my view. We are about to have competition from businesses coming into the legal market that know and understand what makes ‘customers’ tick. They build their businesses around them (customers), and they look to the future with fresh eyes, not simply delivering things the way it’s always been done. We have been protected from the idea of competition (and its consequences) thanks to our regulation. We have been protected, until now. There are law firms coming that know how their customers want their chips salting, they know how to achieve that salting process, and having set that standard they will make sure their fries remain perfectly salted.
Yet, with something as important to peoples lives as legal services, many law firms still seem to have a complete apathy toward the need or worth of setting service standards, or for the consistent delivery of service standards on the odd occasion that they are in existence. It seems to me that too many firms are mindlessly churning things out the way its always been done, without a second thought for how things might be done better. All too often it appears we’re happy to leave service to complete chance, allowing our colleagues (‘fee earners’ as they are so beautifully called) to do things as they want, when they want, how they want. To successful businesses in the real world (that have been exposed to the pressures of intelligent meaningful competition), the concept of leaving things to chance is about as bonkers as it gets.
When we set up Quanticks in 2005 we had a very clear vision – we wanted to know how our clients wanted their fries salted (so to speak)! Once we had established that, we made sure we had systems and training in place to ensure our fries remained perfectly seasoned week in week out. And, we wanted to remain open-minded to changing the seasoning if clients told us that’s what they want. It’s worked. Here we are 7 years on and we’re thriving (if I do say so myself). A fabulous team in place, our second office just opened, and a groundbreaking internet offering on the horizon. Some of the things we hold dear to are painfully simple – incoming telephone calls not ringing more than 3 times, telephone calls always taken (ie not ducked with false excuses of being unavailable), and correspondence dealt with within 24 working hours. Some stuff is a little more significant like becoming one of the country’s first paperless law firms. But, it all makes simple sense.
So, back to McDonald’s. They’re one of the most recognisable brands on the planet. And yet they waste time faffing around training their team on how to achieve the perfect seasoning on their fries. You wouldn’t find intelligent, clever, professional lawyers like us wasting time on such insignificant detail when contemplating the delivery of legal services. We’re too busy being busy. We’re much too important to think about faff. We’re busy barking at our ‘fees earners’ at the end of each month because they haven’t earned us enough fees. And anyway, its fine doing things the way we’ve always done it – clients will get what they’re given!
Right, let’s end on a couple of silly questions. Is there a link between being bothered (in quite some detail) about something as insignificant as how you salt your fries, and becoming one of the best-known brands on the planet? Surely not? Should us terribly important lawyers bother ourselves with such minutia when delivering legal services? Of course not! We’re above all that – always have been, always will be. We can crack on regardless and we’ll be just fine, won’t we…?