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The keynote speaker for the Marketing Partner Forum, Joe Pine, focused his discussion on the idea behind advancing the service economy into an experience economy. He began with the idea of the gumball machine and how adding the experience of seeing the gumball roll down a spiral ramp before exiting the machine has revolutionized the gumball machine industry. He notes that the experience does nothing to improve the taste of the gum, or does it improve anything about the actual gumball itself. In fact, if you think about it, the spiral ramp actually decreases the efficiency of the gumball machine by taking a longer time to dispense the gumball to the consumer. The product stays the same, but the service has advanced by improving the experience of the consumer. Having seen this in action with my four children, I can attest to the fact that the experience drives the customer to come to me and ask for any quarters I have in my pockets.

Pine went on to discuss a number of other services that are improved through engagement of the customer in ways that changes the interaction between the service and the customer. Hospitals that have focused on personalizing, humanizing, and demystifying the hospital stay have created improvements in healing and overall health care experience. Architectural firms that personalize the experience of their customers and cause an engagement between the firm and the customer’s project that makes the customer feel as though they have the complete focus of the firm on their projects. Restaurants that create an environment where the customers are actually a part of the overall presentation, and not simply a bystander there to eat a meal.

There was one example that Pine gave that he says failed in his opinion to engage the customer, although it is known for creating an interesting and interactive environment. The Rain Forest Cafe is a chain that creates an atmosphere of interesting automated animal creatures, but that alone is simply not enough to create an experience (at least not a positive one.) The scene is set, but there is no one directing the experience. I remember my first time in one of these, and was told that there would be a “show” every twenty minutes. We watched, we waited, the animals made a few sounds, moved a bit, but we never actually saw a show. When we left (after about an hour), we asked about the show, and the waitress said that we’d seen the show three times. We left disappointed, and I’ve never gone back.

This type of “show without direction” reminded me of what law firms have created in their receptionist areas of their offices. Lots of interesting items that line the room with spectacular views, and even a few items lying around waiting to be picked up and read. But the experience is usually this:

  1. Exit the elevator; look around for the receptionist area
  2. Greeted by the receptionist; asked for name, who you are here to see
  3. Receptionist calls the attorney and announces you are here
  4. Receptionist invites you to sit down in one of the comfy chairs
  5. You wait until the attorney comes to get you (usually after they’ve finished up editing a document or finishing up an email)
  6. You are then walked back to the meeting room or attorneys office
  7. When you finish, you are walked back to the receptionist’s area
  8. Parking validated
  9. Enter the elevator and leave

There is ample opportunity for engagement with the client, yet the time spent before and after the meeting results in very little engagement actually performed.

The main problem that popped into my head while considering this process is that law firms have created a highly efficient receptionist that can handle high volumes of telephone calls, visitors, and deliveries that enter and exit the law firm. It is all very utilitarian. However, the trade-off for being so efficient is that there is no individual experience. Views may be great, but views with a story behind them are twice as great. We lack that engagement… that storytelling of why something is laid out on the table enabling the customer to see more than the words and pictures before them. No one is making the customer feel as if he or she is important to the firm. In fact, it is quite the opposite. Vendors coming in to sell products to the firm are given the same treatment as clients bringing in thousands or millions of dollars of business to the firm.

I began thinking of how we could change this bland, one-size-fits-all, experience and make it more engaging to the client, and more productive for the law firm. Ideas of a client concierge began forming in my mind. Imagine having someone in your Marketing, Business Development, or Client Teams departments greeting clients (especially key clients) when they walk off the elevator. Knowing exactly who they are, who they are there to see, and being ready to engage the person or persons in conversation. One of the points that Joe Pine made in his talk was that the experience should be a presentation, staged, if you will, and no “back stage” preparations should be exposed to the customer. Therefore, the attorney should be ready to meet with the client and all other business (telephone calls, document editing, emails, etc.) should be put away. If there are timing issues between the attorney’s availability and the client’s time to meet, the concierge should be ready to expand their engagement to fill that time. However, the client’s time is just as valuable as the attorneys, so this should only be a brief extension of the concierge’s performance.

The idea behind the client concierge is actually two-fold. First and foremost, they are there to engage the client and create an experience that lets the client know that they are important to the firm, and that at this moment in time, our resources are focused upon them. In addition to the engagement, there may be valuable information that the client discusses with the concierge. There may be exciting personal news the client talks about, or new business dealings brought up in the conversation. The concierge should relay these points to the attorney or departments responsible for this particular client. This isn’t about prying, it is about creating a better relationship, and improving the client’s overall experience with the firm.

I brought my idea up a couple of times, and was a bit surprised by one answer I received. “Clients like being left alone in the reception area. It gives them time to check and answer their emails.” I really hope that is not the case. I would think that clients do not like waiting (especially if they think the clock is running on the attorney’s billable time.) Instead of making them wait, engage them. Instead of letting them come up with ways to pass the time, take advantage of the time they are giving you by appearing at your office. Personal contact between clients and the law firms that represent them are fleeting. Firms should find ways of leveraging that time and engaging the clients in ways that produce a more positive interaction, and result in a better experience for the client.

  • AmLaw 100 firm

    Our firm created a concierge position to greet clients as they stepped off the elevator and it created a great deal of confusion. Who was this person? Why were they standing by the elevator? In the end we scrapped the program but instead focused on creating a reception staff who greet the client by name and welcome them to the office. One issue in this area is pay. The reception position is often low pay and yet we want the receptionist to be equivalent to the staff at a four star hotel.

  • Law Librarian

    I am a law librarian, but also a client of a fairly large law firm. When I visited the law firm in person two years ago to meet with my attorneys, the receptionist launched into a diatribe about my iced coffee in a covered to go cup and insisted that I had to throw it away immediately because they had just recarpeted the reception area. Fortunately, my attorney came out to the reception area, heard the exchange, and immediately told the receptionist that my coffee was just fine. My attorneys do a great job, but that interaction with the receptionist really got to me. If I wasn't completely pleased with my attorneys' skills, I would have sought out different representation immediately.

  • Anonymous

    I agree that receptionists are underpaid for what they are expected to do. I have seen and heard the receptionists at my firm, and have always been so pleased at how gracious and professional they are, even when juggling multiple phone calls and clients walking in to our firm.

  • I guess in my haste, I wasn't clear on who the concierge should be. This person should be in the Marketing or Biz Dev or Client Relations team. The concierge should only be used for key clients, and in coordination with the attorneys. The experience is something that should be somewhat scripted, but not over the top. Finally, this is not to replace the receptionist at all, or be performed by a receptionist, it is only to expand the experience of key clients (potential key clients) and engage them once they reach the receptionist area.

  • AmLaw 100 firm

    I can see that. In a national firm, the key contact in Marketing or Biz Dev may be in another location entirely. We like to think that all of our clients are key clients and want them each to have a very specific and welcoming experience. I know we are getting off track from your main point but this is something our management team discusses often and so far has not resolved to our satisfaction.

  • Whoopdeedoo…Pine's book was published in 1999. My article "Welcome Matters" was published in Bloomberg Wealth Manager in May 2003. More than a decade later.the legal community catches on. Dawn breaks over Marblehead.

  • I know a veteran CA estate planning lawyer who describes how their clients are often greeted three times before they even see the lawyer for their appt. Starting with the parking attendent – here to see Mr.M, oh he's on the 4th floor, He's the best, clients seem love him, the receptionist greets the visitor by name. (The sweetest sound one ever hears is he sound of their own name.) A staff member greets the person by name again, and escorts the visitor to the conference room or atty office. All before they ever meet the lawyer. Provides the right mood and an elevated opinion of their soon to be new lawyer. Smart and common sense.
    Tom Caffrey

  • Anonymous

    I'm currently working as an executive receptionist and the company (HR outsourcing firm) wants to change it to client concierge. Right now I'm doing receptionist work and a heck of a lot of other admin duties that fall under the title of office manager, yet top management wants to call it client concierge, blah blah blah. All I know if that I'm not getting paid enough to do even more work and it is easy for you guys to call it whatever you want, but this is not a hotel people!!!! It is a receptionist job that sucks. Get it???