In last week’s column, I drew some customer service lessons for lawyers from the way that Disney treats visitors to its theme parks. This week, I want to focus on how Disney incorporates technological advances into its theme parks as a means of enhancing the customer experience.
On my recent visit, I was struck by the presence of two familiar pieces of technology from the “real world” within the Disney parks: (1) Disney’s new smartphone app for theme park visitors and (2) the availability of wi-fi in most areas of the park. Each example illustrates distinct yet relate, approaches to implementing technology for the benefit of the customer. And while I am sure that each took Disney many man-hours to develop, test, and roll-out publicly, it was refreshing for me as a lawyer to see a company of that stature making the investment to do so. It was also a real contrast to my Biglaw experience, where implementing technology in a way tailored to improve the client (and even employee) experience was all too often a low priority….
I really enjoyed using Disney’s app while I was there. Certain features, such as the ability to look up wait times for attractions in real time, really did allow us to enjoy our vacation more, primarily by letting us avoid lines. Likewise, the ability to monitor the Fastpasses (or licenses to jump to the head of lines that Disney dispenses in capacity-controlled quantities for popular distractions, much to the dismay of perplexed foreigners, waiting for hours on the regular line, who are forced to watch as your kids run by them in the theme-park equivalent of a HOV lane) we had picked up earlier in the day was great. And when we had to wait on a line, the ability to use our phones via wi-fi was a great way to pass the time. Whether it was to look up the time of the next parade on the app, answer some work emails quickly, or just to check the weather, the ability to make productive use of dead time was very welcome. Having been to Disney many times in the past, I was struck by how much better these two minor technological enhancements made the experience. More importantly, their existence confirmed for me the value of keeping in tune with your customer — in Disney’s case, recognizing that nearly every theme park guest over age 10 has some sort of handheld device with wi-fi capability on their person at all times — and adapting your technological offerings in response. For lawyers, that often starts with assessing how we use technology in our own practices, and for those of us who grew up in Biglaw, by what technology our firms offered.
While I was in Biglaw, I had two favorite pieces of technology. The first, by a wide margin, was my BlackBerry, handed to me on my first day of employment as a first-year associate. Over the years, the BlackBerry models I used changed, but the fact that I had a BlackBerry never did. One of the first things I did when we opened our new firm was to set up a separate line on my cellphone plan and order a new BlackBerry — primarily as an email device, but to be frank, nothing beats the little guy for call quality and battery life either. In my opinion, even a high-end iPhone or Droid is too fragile for the Biglaw (or Biglaw-level aspiring boutique) lifestyle. Maybe that is an anachronistic view, but I am of the generation for whom the practice of law was synonymous with having a BlackBerry. As with all technology, it was sometimes a blessing, allowing me to stay responsive on a weekend without needing to come into the office, for example, and at other times a curse — insert important personal event interrupted by “urgent” work emails of your choosing here.
In addition to my BlackBerry, I really liked having internal chat capability during my time at Greenberg Traurig. The application, which resided on my work desktop, allowed me to instantly try to reach anyone else in the firm. I found it a very useful tool, and it actually encouraged me to use other associates and later partners as a resource. I was not a heavy user, but having the capability was a nice option, and on balance encouraged internal communication — which is normally a plus, even for Biglaw.
At the same time, I was always frustrated by what I saw (at the vast majority of firms, not only the firms I worked at) as a missed opportunity for Biglaw firms: namely, the chance to tailor the technology offerings of the firm to each lawyer’s needs, understanding that those needs could change over time. An easy example. At many firms, one of the benefits of making partner was the bestowing of a second computer screen. I have been in many Biglaw offices, and it is common to pass by partner offices with two large-size computer monitors, which depending on the seniority of the partner may actually be located behind the partner’s head when they are sitting normally — as in, distinguished partner has two screens that he usually ignores. Just down the hall, a lowly junior associate — who spends all day involved in research, drafting, and reviewing documents — makes do with a 15-incher that takes up a large part of the scarce desk real estate they have. I am not advocating taking away a partner’s screen (how else will they monitor their retirement portfolio?), but in terms of technological investment, it strikes me that second screens for junior associates are a pretty good bang-for-the-buck productivity investment. Or making sure that litigation associates with similar workloads like the one I used to have (as I frequently spent the equivalent of one to two months per year on the road, at minimum) are equipped with top-of-the line mobile technology, rather than a clunky desktop for the office and access to a middling firm-issued laptop for travel. Like many of my contemporaries, while I was in Biglaw I ended up bringing my personal laptop along on many trips, after having it equipped with the firm software programs that I actually used in my work.
Looking back, I realize that the best way to make sure that I had access to technology that enhanced productivity while I was in Biglaw was to speak up. That meant developing relationships with people on the IT staff, in litigation support, and eventually the firm’s in-house discovery vendor. And being honest about what I used and what was just cluttering up my desk — whether virtually on my desktop, or on my actual desk. As an owner of a new firm, I now have an opportunity to start fresh from a technological perspective. That fresh start has included making sure I have access to an old trusted friend in the form of a BlackBerry. At the same time, I have also become a much heavier user of Skype and Google Hangouts to stay in touch with my partners, and contact existing or potential clients, for example. Ultimately, if Disney can roll out technology for the benefit of millions of visitors, young and old, each of us as lawyers should be able to procure and use technology in a way that benefits our clients and practices (or as someone who knows all too well the joys of video-chatting with my kids from a hotel room in the Far East, maybe even for our personal relationships as well). Last thing: if your travels take you to the Magic Kingdom, feel free to have a non-alcoholic “brew” over at Gaston’s Tavern. I’m loaning Disney the naming rights until I open a hipster bar in Brooklyn’s next hot neighborhood. We’ll have wi-fi — and real drinks.
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].