I recently made a move from working in a large law firm environment to working for a solutions provider to the legal and tax world.  The move has brought with it many changes in process, perspective and daily routines.  All of which is to be expected.  One of the changes I have noticed, that I struggle with (maybe I am just a geek for semantics), is the notion of calling those who buy legal goods and services clients versus referring to those people as customers.  To me, clients is a stronger, more sophisticated word denoting a relationship between the buying and selling parties, whereas customers is transactional and fair-weather.  For a colleague who spent his teen years as a sales clerk in a large department store chain, customers is the stronger term, that reinforces the notion of “the customer is always right” and the constant reminder to put the customer’s needs first and focus in each and every customer transaction with renewed attention.  This lead me to think about all the services those in the legal industry provide.. We encourage lawyers in firms to think of the business as a relationship business, while also thinking about each individual interaction.  On the solutions side, we strive to create products and services that will help lawyers and other professionals be more efficient, increase their revenues and help their clients more effectively.
Are we a culture of clients or customers? How should we approach those we serve? What matters more: building of long term trusted relationships or focusing on individual attentive interactions?  Do they have to be mutually exclusive? It’s early days for me in this transition and I don’t have the answer yet, but it’s definitely a conversation worth exploring. I know, we can all agree that the notion of service on the whole is changing in the legal world and we need to get it right, on all sides of the service provider continuum.