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Mistakes—We’ve All Made a Few

“The partner made heroic efforts to step in and get things back on track and make things right. I appreciate the appropriate modifications being made quickly and was pleased with the outcome. That [frustrating experience] did not affect my willingness or inclination to use or recommend the firm in the future.”

As we’ve written about numerous times before, mistakes happen. But attorneys strengthen relationships and engender loyalty when they are willing to figure out what went wrong, own up to the mistake, find a mutually acceptable correction, make things right and develop a plan to avoid future mistakes. Despite all of our efforts, attention to detail and good intentions, things don’t always go as planned. How we handle those circumstances can make or break a client or customer relationship, and quite frequently it’s the little things that can make the biggest impact.

Because I entertain a lot and live in a small town without many shopping resources, I shop online.  A few weeks ago, I ordered two sets of dishes from Pottery Barn for a specific party and a number of other dinners we are hosting this fall. The bowls and salad plates arrived, but there were no dinner plates. When I called to inquire, I was told they would arrive the next week along with effusive apologies that they were not in time for the first dinner party. Almost a month later, there are still no dinner plates.

After three thirty-minute phone calls as well as an email assuring me that that a supervisor had things under control and was working towards my complete satisfaction, it turns out the dinner plates won’t be delivered until February 2020. But I can call different stores around the country and see if they have any in stock so I can cobble together enough to complete my set of 24 and pay shipping fees for each order. Or I can send the products received back within the 30-day return window (which is now) for a store credit that will be mailed to me as a gift card only.

These dinner plates are a fairly insignificant cost, but the frustrating experience isn’t much different than the problems we hear about from your clients. Pottery Barn has made a mistake, and I’m spending time, effort and energy to deal with it. They have not solved my problem or made my life easier. I’ve essentially lost 2 hours of my life (not including the product selection time) and will still have no dinnerware. Calculate that with the time to find replacements, and it’s just a hassle I don’t need. It certainly doesn’t make me want to do business with Pottery Barn again or recommend it to others. And the solution could have been fairly simple if the company had just credited my card, offered a small gift for my hassle or offered to find the plates in inventory at no extra cost or effort on my part.

The client quoted above experienced frustration with a litigation attorney, and the firm needed to offer more than a simple solution. It pulled in another attorney to work hard at repairing what could have been a relationship-ending disappointment, and the situation was salvaged.

To address problems like this and others, we’ve seen law firms:

  • Have another senior partner who works closely with the client step in to manage the process for the remainder of the litigation at no additional cost to the client.
  • Apologize, write off significant time or send a check with a handwritten note to refund some of the work previously done.
  • Seek feedback from other contacts involved to allow them the opportunity to share their perspective and vent.
  • Ask the client contacts what it would take to make them feel better about getting to the finish line, ask how the firm can recover from the mistake and then let them know how you will incorporate their suggestions.
  • Increase communication via mutually agreed methods like weekly email status reports or phone calls.
  • Involve the firm’s and client’s financial experts in conversations about estimates and billing.

Whether the mistakes you eventually make are big or small, use them as an opportunity to demonstrate how highly you value your clients’ satisfaction.

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