Image [cc] My Silent Side

I was recently pointed to a post from Pam Woldow called “What Law Firms Can Learn from Hotels: Perspectives on Service” and it reminded me of a program we had at my former firm that we borrowed from the Four Seasons hotel on Service Excellence.

One of the key aspects of what the hotels, be it Trump Towers or Four Seasons, isn’t just the excellence of service, but also the consistency of that service regardless of which location you stay. There’s a very good article from a few years ago called “Service Showdown at the Four Seasons” that describes how the Four Seasons fought against allowing certain locations to change the way they offered services from location to location, mainly because the local owners wanted to trim budgets in a tight economy.

My favorite part of the article discusses the need to standardize the way service is presented to the customer:

The company competes on standardization and scale, not words we usually associate with luxury.  But impeccable service comes from exquisite attention to the details of an experience, and that experience isn’t necessarily diminished by the fact that it’s being replicated all over the world.  In fact, companies like the Four Seasons achieve excellence because of — not in spite of — a high degree of standardization.  Standardization of operations frees up the time, space and money to compete on a main driver of excellence in hospitality industries:  personalized, detail-oriented interactions with guests. (emphasis added)

Going back to Pam Waldow’s article, if Pam goes to another Trump Towers hotel and doesn’t get the same consistent treatment, then she will no longer associate the excellent service with the Trump “Brand” but rather with the specific Trump location.

That’s something to think about as a law firm, given our desire to cross sell our clients on our own services across locations and practice groups. From a law firm administrator or department head, you can even take this idea and look more on the granular level within the firm on how the staff service levels are seen by attorneys between the different locations or departments. Are our departments known for excellence, or just some individuals within the departments?

Listen to how your brand is discussed among your clients. Do they talk about the brand as a whole (“The firm did an excellent job handling our case.” or “The library is my go to resource for getting the information I need.”), or do they isolate the individuals and disassociate the brand from the people? (“When I need help with arbitration, I go straight to Joe.” Or “When I need research, I only go to Sara.”) Normally, this type of preference for individuals over the group is normal, but you have to think about what happens when Joe or Sara aren’t there? Can you bring in Jane or Steve as replacements when needed? Does the customer have trust in your firm or department’s ability to consistently produce excellent results? If the answer is yes, then your brand benefits; if the answer is no, then your brand is weak because you do not have that consistancy.

The process of building excellence and consistancy is one that takes effort and planning. I like looking to really good IT departments and seeing what they do to provide excellent service on a consistant basis. A few months ago, Ryan McClead, Lynn Oser and I wrote about one way of building excellence and consistancy by adapting an established Information Technology concept (ITIL) to library and research services. (PDF) There are probably many ways to get there, but it takes vision, leadership, and a desire to constantly monitor the services you provide to your customer and making sure you are consistant in providing excellent services and results, regardless of the individual, the office location, or the practice group, that provides the service.