Everyone has an opinion about a trip to Disney World. Some people relish immersing themselves in the experience, while others bemoan the long lines, incessant invitations to spend money, and roaming packs of at-turns hyperactive and hysterical children.
Personally, I fall somewhere in the middle, if leaning a bit to being a Disney-phile as opposed to a Disney-phobe. Having just spent a week there with my family, I can attest to the importance of having realistic expectations regarding the trip — such as recognizing that it will not be a relaxing “vacation,” in the traditional sense. Whether physically or emotionally, anything more than a day visit can be quite draining. At the same time, it is also a lot of fun, and can be quite educational for the kids as well. And there is a lot we can learn as lawyers from the way that Disney goes about its business….
There are two areas in particular where I think Disney has a lot to teach lawyers, especially lawyers in Biglaw or former Biglaw partners like myself. The first is in customer service, which should not be a surprise considering the sheer popularity of Disney World as a tourist destination. The second area, and the one that I hope to focus on in next week’s column, was in the implementation of technology to deliver a better customer experience.
Whether you are in Biglaw or a boutique, learning how to deliver superior client service is of paramount importance, especially in the free-for-all competitive environment we have been dealing with over the past few years. Likewise, incorporating technology into our practices has become even more of a necessity. I for one strongly believe that those firms and lawyers who best integrate technology into the “client experience” will enjoy a major competitive advantage going forward. Does that mean that the senior Biglaw partner who does not know how to turn on a speakerphone (visit your next Biglaw partner meeting for numerous examples) is doomed to lose all their clients? Of course not. Going forward, however, technological ignorance will no longer be a point of pride for lawyers. In fact, it will be sanctionable, particularly for litigators who want to pretend (they are out there) that e-discovery obligations can be safely ignored as beneath the concern of a prestigious lawyer.
With respect to customer service, what is amazing about Disney is how deftly they balance the constant presentation of opportunities for customers to spend money with an unbending tolerance of customers who choose not to spend liberally. Going to Disney World is not an inexpensive vacation, as the park tickets alone cost a small fortune, and frequently more than the round-trip airfare to Orlando itself. At the same time, Disney, unlike many other theme park operators, allows guests to bring in outside food and drink, and once in the park, any additional spending is optional. Such policies remind me of the importance of not nickel-and-diming clients with additional expenses, even if the cost of entry to your firm’s legal services (whether because you are at a Biglaw firm or high-end boutique) is high. Nothing annoys a client more, after they have made the commitment to pay a premium for your services, than to see numerous expenses on a bill. In fact, many clients are quicker to comment on a string of late dinners charged to their file than they are to challenge an additional timekeeper billing for pitching in on a brief — even though the dollar amount of the latter would dwarf the former.
At the same time as Disney makes “add-on spending” optional, it does everything in its power to encourage that spending. Whether it is by having rides dispense riders directly into a gift shop “themed” to mirror the ride itself — nothing stirs a two-year old’s desire for a twenty-dollar plush Winnie the Pooh doll like a ride on the Winnie the Pooh ride, apparently — or by the strategic placement of snack stations every thirteen inches for the inevitable hunger that results from hiking around the park, no opportunity to part you with your money is missed. Even though I spent five years as a partner during Biglaw’s ongoing golden-age of cross-selling, I can testify firsthand that Biglaw firms have a long way to go in terms of making it easy for clients to engage the firm’s services on additional matters. Being part of a specialized boutique changes that equation a bit, but the principle is an important one. We, as service providers, have to make it easy for our clients to use our services. Step one in that process is to make it clear what we are selling. Then, we need to personalize our sales approach to meet the legal needs of the client. And be prepared to adapt to our client’s changing needs as the engagement develops, and hopefully expands.
At the same time, customer service is not limited to selling, or even being considerate about the economic aspects of the client relationship. There are other important factors at play. For example, Disney has long been renowned for the cleanliness of the facilities, the good cheer and helpfulness of its employees, and the general fact that thought seems to go into every detail. At bottom, guests like myself come to appreciate that the company is trying its best to make the customer experience a favorable one. If nothing else, my week in Disney reminded me of the importance of focusing on the experience of our clients with our law firm. For all the talk in the legal world about the plight of lawyers and law firms, an occasional reminder that we are in the service business is advisable. As I told my kids, there is nothing wrong with learning something on vacation.
Please feel free to send comments or questions to me at [email protected]. Any topic suggestions or thoughts are most welcome.
Gaston Kroub lives in Brooklyn and is a founding partner of Kroub, Silbersher & Kolmykov PLLC, an intellectual property litigation boutique. The firm’s practice focuses on intellectual property litigation and related counseling, with a strong focus on patent matters. He can be reached at [email protected].