Late last week, thanks to Reuters I learned that Mergermarket is up for auction. “British publisher Pearson put its Mergermarket news service on the block on Friday[July 26th] while insisting that it intends to hang on to the Financial Times newspaper, Reuters reported.”

Hearing that a beloved information and intelligence source is up for sale stimulates a whole series of questions for law firm intelligence and librarian types, such as:

  • Who will buy the service? Obvious choices come to mind like Thomson, Lexis or Bloomberg
  • Will (and how) customer service and support be affected?
  • Will this get rolled into some other bigger product that I will need to subscribe to for large sums of money to only use a portion of it?

Mergermarket is a good service for all sorts of intelligence projects and likely a profitable business which is why Pearson is looking to sell.  One can only hope that come what may for all of its users, that at least the deal will be reported on accurately.  

The Legal Duck is a brand new, very exclusive, and extremely expensive restaurant owned and operated by Lena Dewey and Daniel Cheatom, two of the most successful attorneys in our fair city.  Last week, we sat down with Lena and Dan to discuss their new endeavor…

3 Geeks:   So, what inspired you two to try your hand at being restaurateurs?

Lena:  Dan and I were partners at DCH for nearly 25 years…

Dan:  We both made partner the same year.

L:  Back when we were associates, we realized that we were both passionate about good food. We dreamed about one day opening a restaurant together.

D:  A couple of years ago, Lena strolled into my office and said, “You know, Dan, I think it’s time. We’ve got the money. We’ve got the knowledge.  We’ve still got the passion for good food. Let’s do it.”

L:  So we went for it.

3G:  And you decided to go with a legal themed restaurant?

L: You know what they say, go with what you know, right?

3G:  A number of critics have faulted you for your unusual style. For instance, the average lunchtime meal at The Legal Duck lasts about 4 hours.

L:  When we set out on this journey we decided we would take everything we had learned from our combined 70 years the legal business and apply it to running this restaurant.

D:  We would provide only the finest foods, prepared by the finest craftsmen in the business.  Our Partners and Associates are artists, creating unique and wonderful experiences for our customers.

L:  Perfection takes time.

3G:  Which brings us to another complaint that I’ve heard about the food not living up to the promise.

L:  Really? Where have you heard that?

3G:  Michelin gave The Legal Duck their first ever 2 Negative Stars.

D:  Well, I don’t think their reviewer really understood the value that we are bringing to our diners.  We are exclusively focused on providing the greatest meals to the people with the biggest appetites.  We aren’t really interested in creating commodity food.

3G: Which raises an interesting point. Michelin seemed to believe that’s exactly what they were getting.

L:  In consultation with our service associate, the Michelin reviewer decided to have a simple sandwich, the “Big Mike”.  

3G: Yes, he described it as, “two grass-fed Kobe beef patties, a mild tomato and mayo spread, a sprig of romaine lettuce, gruyere cheese, thinly sliced gherkin pickles, Vidalia onions, all on a sesame encrusted brioche bun.”  Doesn’t that remind you of anything?

D:  It sounds like an amazing sandwich.

L:  Yeah, my mouth is watering.

3G: Changing the subject… You mentioned the initial consultation with your Service Associate.  Can you talk a little about the unusual experience of dining at The Legal Duck?

L:  Sure! You are greeted at the front door by our lovely receptionist and asked to take a seat in the waiting area. 

D:  We believe anticipation is a big part of an enjoyable dining experience, so we ask people to wait even if there are no other diners.

L:  Once you are seated, you are visited by our Service Associate, who asks you a few questions about the kind of meal you are interested in having. 

D:  The kinds of meals you’ve eaten before? Who you’ve eaten them with? Etc. 

L:  Exactly. Then she or he will take that information and do some research on the kinds of meals that other people in your situation have eaten in the past. The associate, will consult with a more experienced Senior Service Partner or two and together they will draw up a customized menu for your perfect meal.  

D:  Then the entire service team will seek advice from an expert chef on the best method for preparing your meal, presentation suggestions, etc. 

3G: You mentioned your chefs, but I understand that you don’t actually have a kitchen in your restaurant.

D:  That is correct.  We’ve determined that the actual preparation of the food can be accomplished more efficiently and economically off site.  

L:  We have subcontracted food preparation to an industrial food services company that primarily caters to major airlines.  We’ve found that they can prepare the food at a tenth of the cost that we could do it ourselves. We pay them ten times what the airlines pay and they give our meals priority.  It really is a win-win.

3G: But isn’t the preparation of food the actual service that you, as a restaurant, should be providing your customers?

L:  (laughing) No. We work in conjunction with our customers to design and implement the perfect meal for their enjoyment.  

3G: Which someone else makes?

L:  Yes.

3G: Uh…OK.  One final question: The average bill per diner for lunch at The Legal Duck is over thirty-five hundred dollars.  First, how is that possible? And as a follow up, how do you justify those prices?

D: Yes, I admit our restaurant is expensive.  But we provide unparalleled customer service and we stand by our work.  We have only had to sue a handful of our diners for non-payment.

L:  And thirty-five hundred is not so much when you realize how much work is being put into each meal. To produce the typical four-hour meal requires at least six hours of a Service Associates time at, let’s say, a hundred and fifty dollars an hour. Then each Partner is charging around three hundred an hour, Expert Chef’s don’t come cheap, maybe five hundred… 

D:  Yep, depending on the time of day. Then there’s the minor incidental expenses for the ingredients, the preparation, and of course, the delivery of the food.  Before you know it, it’s real money.

L:  But it’s worth it.

D:  Yeah, we couldn’t be happier.

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.

Image [cc] neonbubble

When reading a Harvard Business Review (HBR) article by James Allworth called “Empathy: The Most Valuable Thing They Teach at HBS,” there was a line at the end that really stood out to me:

…this story seems to repeat itself over and over for disrupted companies: they go out of business wanting to sell to customers what they want to sell to customers, rather than what customers want to buy.

Allworth was discussing the false perception that Blockbuster convinced itself of when dealing with the disruptive technology that Netflix brought in during the early 2000’s. Blockbuster failed to look at the market from the customer’s point of view, and instead bounced ideas off the insular community of its internal perspective and thought that its two options were:

  1. create its own disruptive service (with all the risks that come with it); or,
  2. continue business as normal
As Allworth puts it, they failed to see the world as it was becoming, but rather as a snapshot of how it existed at that moment. In reality, option number two was not an option at all, it was a path that led them to failure and eventual bankruptcy. 
We focus mainly on the administrative side of law firms on this blog, with me primarily looking at libraries, records and knowledge management. Reading this HBR article made me think about whether we are providing the services that we want to provide, or if we are providing the services that our customers actually want to receive? It brought me back to the post I wrote last month on thinking like a startup. Are we surrounding ourselves with others that think like us, especially those in our professional association ranks, or are we bringing in smart people that challenge our traditional thinking and make us look at what we do from a different perspective? Are we empathetic toward our core customers as well as thinking of ways to change what we do in order to bring in the next generation of customers?

Allworth’s article lead me to this great 8 minute video of Clay Christensen (embedded below) where he describes what disruptive innovation means. I especially like the discussion around the 3-minute mark where Christensen discusses the dilemma that GM and Ford faced when Japanese car makers challenged their market share and how now the Japanese are facing a similar challenge from the Korean car market. Change seems to be the only constant in today’s business world and continuing to give more of the same (whether it is services or products) will only lead to someone else pushing you out of the market because they have brought in the disruptive innovation and replaced you.

I like Allworth’s topic of being surrounded by smart people that challenge your way of thinking; of putting yourself in someone else’s shoes and viewing what you do, and see it from other perspectives. We may find that what we consider to be valuable services to us, are no longer valued by those that we think we serve. Eventually, we may find that the most valuable services we should provide do not exist at the moment, and those we should be providing that service to are not even our current customers. Sounds like disruptive innovation starts by disrupting our own beliefs first.

Clay Christensen, Harvard Business School professor and the world’s most influential management guru according to the Thinkers50, lays out his landmark theory.

Image [cc] puddy77

[Guest Blog from Cindy Adams]

As research has evolved in recent years, we all have seen decreased foot traffic within our libraries. Attorneys rarely need print materials and are able to complete most tasks on their desktops. If no one comes to visit the library, is the facility, and its staff, still relevant?

In addition to the evolution from a physical presence to an online presence, our Atlanta office faced a special challenge. When the building was being designed more than 20 years ago, I begged management to put the library on a floor with attorneys. Sadly, I was overruled. So, for 17 years our Research Team has been at least three floors and two elevator rides away from our customers.

As research became an activity conducted by attorneys in their offices, we saw less and less of other people. As time went on our visitors became fewer and fewer, and requests came to us more frequently by phone, and now, via email. Over the years we were cut off, quite literally, from our customers.

Even though we were out of sight, the number of requests was not decreasing. As email emerged as the standard of communication, our work continued to grow. Using a unified Research Team approach, every research request is shared with every Team member. Research Team members, who are located in three of our 10 offices, respond to requests from people they may never meet. The library is no longer a physical location, but rather a virtual service. Our face-time with our customers was becoming a thing of the past, and face-time can be critical to building and maintaining relationships. Our research load proved that we weren’t out of our customer’s minds yet, but I knew we needed to do something to become more engaged with other people in our Atlanta office.

I didn’t want my team to be toiling in obscurity – faceless voices at the other end of a phone line—or signatures at the end of an email. How could we become more involved in daily interactions with other people at the firm? At conferences, I heard the mantra over and over – Get up from your desk and walk around. But who has the time? How could we leave our phones and computers?

Then, one day last summer, the light bulb came on! Our librarians no longer needed to be located with the print materials, which have become the least relevant part of our research arsenal. We were on the computer most of the day, rarely visiting the stacks. Why did I persist with the notion that we need to be near the books? The librarians needed to be with the attorneys, so that’s where I proceeded to send them.

First, I needed to sell the idea with all stakeholders. To get the ball rolling I proposed the idea with the librarians themselves. Initially there were reservations, but as we discussed ways to put the plan into practice, the affected team members saw how this could improve our relationships with attorneys. Each librarian is partnered with a practice group. They are the experts in a topical area, to whom other members of our Research Team turn for assistance. Each librarian would be moved to the floor with the attorney teams for which they were the expert researchers. For example, our corporate specialist would be moved to the floor with the corporate attorneys – a few steps from her best customers.

After the team began to see the possibilities of such a move, I approached my supervisor who enthusiastically approved it. I then crowd-sourced the idea with attorneys from the affected practice groups, who were excited to have a librarian accessible. Buy-in from firm management was obtained. Indeed, the most difficult challenge was finding suitable offices for the librarians. To date, one librarian has yet to move to her practice group’s floor as there is no office available.

The moves took place over several days. We sent announcements to practice group members advising them of their specialist’s new location, and sent a general email to everyone in our Atlanta office. Our three librarians were welcomed to their new floors by attorneys and staff.

My office also remains on the floor with the print collection, along with our technical services assistant. We’re here to offer assistance to persons wanting to use the books. That said, my floor has become as quiet as a graveyard.

So what was the outcome? This challenge became a huge opportunity. Our Atlanta team members are now actively engaged with attorneys, paralegals, marketing personnel and secretaries on a daily basis. They hear what’s going on while visiting the coffee machine or copier. Attorneys stop by their offices, just to visit. By being physically present, we hear what’s going on and have become more proactive in providing research assistance. We’ve seen a marked increase in live requests from attorneys. Many attorneys – including partners – have told me how much they appreciate having a research expert nearby. We are no longer on a floor far, far away. Every day our librarians are engaged with our customers. What a change!

The librarians speak with each other every day, even though we may not see each other. We hold monthly meetings where we share firm news and research challenges. In essence, our Atlanta team communicates in the same way we work with librarians in our other offices. We are truly a virtual team.

If you’ve seen foot traffic and visits to your library decrease over time, you may want to consider this nontraditional approach. Out of sight, out of mind? Not us!

I’ve had a rash of positive customer service experiences over the past couple of months and feel compelled to share them with you. We talk a lot on this blog about making your decisions (whether about a library’s collection, a marketing project, or fee pricing) in a client facing manner. My three experiences did exactly that, and each had a different aspect of what it means to be client facing and to look at the situation the client is in and make the best suggestions for the client. It wasn’t just about giving clients good customer service – that should be the floor of your customer service operation, not the ceiling – but, rather going the extra step to:

  • be better than the customer expects you to be;
  • listen to what the customer is actually saying and counsel them in the right direction, and;
  • know when you are not the best solution, but can point the customer to someone that is, even if that someone is a competitor.
Here are my three (non-law related) experiences that have made me think more about what I need to do to provide the best experience for my clients.
Guitar Center and the Cheap Guitar
I picked up a cheap guitar online a few months ago (somewhere around $125.00 – see picture above) because I really like the telecaster look, and it had a really cool design of a Texas flag on it. I didn’t really expect much from it, but when it arrived, it was pretty much unplayable. I knew that I needed to take it to a guitar shop and have it set up properly, but I dreaded going in with an off-brand guitar to a shop that sold Fenders and Gibsons. I was pretty sure I was going to get the answer of “geez, where did you get this thing?” and “I don’t think this is going to be playable… but let me show you some real guitars that you should have bought in the first place.” I actually waited a week before going in because I was pretty sure that was going to be my experience. However, I was dead wrong.
When I went into my local Guitar Center off of Westheimer here in Houston, I got the exact opposite experience. Instead of ridicule and salesmanship, I got treated like I was bringing in something special. The floor staff all came by and asked where I got the guitar. One told another that they should find something like this to sell in the store, and one showed me a picture on her iPhone of a guitar she painted for another customer as a Texas flag. The set-up man was busy working on a much more expensive Gibson Gold Top, but when he finished with that guitar (costing five times or more) he went to work on mine for nearly an hour and came back all smiles and told me that I would have a great time playing this guitar. 
The men and women at Guitar Center gave me a much better experience than I anticipated, it was sincere, and I walked away very happy. Needless to say, I’ve gone back and bought a number of things (probably some my wife thinks I don’t need) from that store since. 
Sears, the X-Box and the Blu-Ray

When I went looking for a game console, I went to Sears to pick one up. I knew I wanted the X-Box 360 and went in, found the salesman with the key to the cabinet, pointed it out to him and within a few minutes was ready to check out. However, I had a some money left on my gift card, so I told him that I really liked a Blu-Ray player my brother-in-law had and wanted to see if they had one like it. After looking at a few of them, I mentioned that I really wanted on for all of the online television, music and Internet options, as I already had a blu-ray player, but it didn’t have all of the bells and whistles like my the one my brother-in-law had. That’s when the salesman chimed in, lost a sale, but gained a customer.
I had the player picked out and was going to close the deal when he told me that if what I wanted was the bells and whistles, then I didn’t need the blu-ray player at all. Everything I needed, and more, was already included in the X-Box console I had waiting for me at the register. He even mentioned that Microsoft was doing an upgrade this month to make it even better. So, instead of plunking down another $180 for something I didn’t need, I simply walked back and paid for the game console. It was nice that someone listened to what I actually needed and guided me in the right direction. That’s the sort of thing that, as a customer, I remember and will tell my friends about.
The Software Consultant and the Competition

After seeing some of the results of the Lexis Advance platform and the High Performance Computer Clustering (HPCC) combination, I started looking around at other types of Hadoop options out there and ran across Pentaho. Pentaho, pronounced “Pen-TAH-ho”, is an open-source business intelligence software, but the software is packaged by the company with many add-on features that make it easy to use, and they also offer valuable consulting as well. I had a number of things that I wanted to test out with Pentaho, and when I talked with Rob Sampson it became apparent that there were a few things on my list that weren’t really doable with Pentaho. Now, it has been my experience that when you run across software that does many of the things you want, but is lacking in one or two areas, I get an answer similar to “that is in the works and should be out in the third quarter of next year” sales-speak. However, that was not the answer I got this time. Instead, I got pointed to some other open-source software that actually competes in the same space as Pentaho. 
Rob wasn’t thrilled pointing me to the other software – I think his exact words were “it pains me to say this, but…” – but, he did. However, he didn’t stop there and wish me luck on my project. Instead, he knew that a couple of the things I needed to do first could be handled by the competitor, and once that part of the project was finished, then his product could come in and complete the work. He listened to what I wanted to do, and he helped me understand that there were pieces that would need to be handled in different ways, with different software, and one of those pieces could be handled better by a competitor. Therefore, instead of trying to convince me to wait until some piece of vapor-ware product came out at the end of next year, he actually put me in a better position to start the project, and come back and evaluate his software when I was further along. That’s the type of customer service that gets you a long-term win by understanding that when you help someone with their overall goals, they’ll be back, or at least will give you good reference to their colleagues when asked for software solution suggestions.
Be Better – Listen – Guide
My three experiences have really made me think of how I approach those I support. It made me think that I need to give my customers a better experience than they expect, I need to listen to their needs over my own, and guide them in the right direction, even if that direction means someone else would be better at helping them achieve their objectives. Thanks to the helpful people and Guitar Center, Sears and Pentaho for helping me in ways beyond my initial request.