By Gary Holstein, Practice Advisor

Did you ever go to a restaurant where the food was good, but the overall dining experience was not? Perhaps the waiter was inattentive, the hostess pretentious or the noise level too high. Most likely, you never went back, and discouraged others from eating there.

The chef probably believes he’s providing a good experience because his food is great. He doesn’t realize that because of poor service, his restaurant falls short. Small but negative experiences often cause an unidentified drag on businesses-and law practices are no exception.

The “lone ranger syndrome” is one major reason.

Lone Rangers Cause Problems

The “lone ranger” syndrome is the belief held by many attorneys that they should do most things themselves. They believe they can do it better and faster than anyone else on their team. Additionally, they believe their actions alone determine whether a client or referral source is satisfied with the firm’s service.

For example, an estate planning attorney recently mentioned that he handles all the marketing and client contact for his firm. In his mind this was true. Upon further discussion, however, he admitted that someone else answers the phone, takes messages, sets up appointments, and interacts with the clients when they arrive at his office. He was completely discounting the affect his team members have on a client’s experience of his firm.

In reality, the total experience that a client or a referral source has with your firm is the aggregate of all their dealings with the different people in the firm-from the receptionist to the most senior partner. The quality of the overall experience determines the frequency and enthusiasm of your clients’ referrals.

Two Problems Result From The Lone Ranger Syndrome

Often in law practices two problems exist that may damage referrals, which are the lifeblood of any marketing effort: failure to assess your clients’ or referral sources’ overall experience with your firm; and failure to involve other members of your team appropriately. Both these failures can have powerful consequences.

Let’s address the second problem first. The principle of leverage demands that you allocate your time according to your most important priorities. As partner, you should not spend your time making appointments, sending gifts, making reservations for marketing dinners, buying tickets to give to referral sources or addressing thank-you notes. Designate someone on the team to handle this kind of work and make everyone on the team aware of how he or she contributes to the overall experience and ultimately to the image clients have of your firm.

As for the first problem, there are a number of ways to assess how clients or referral sources feel about your practice. The methods involve careful interviewing techniques that exceed the scope of this article. However, if you agree that everyone who comes in contact with a client or a referral source is in some way marketing, you can pre-empt problems and proactively build a service oriented team.

Four Ways To Create A Service-Based Team

First, enroll the firm’s members in the marketing effort. To do this, you need to:

  • Explain the difference between commitment and compliance
  • Reconcile espoused ideas with reality
  • Use a marketing assistant
  • Conduct a marketing retreat

Understanding the concept of commitment vs. compliance is critical if you want to develop a service-based team in your office. If someone has to be told what to do, and doesn’t extend herself much beyond her expressed duties, then she is compliant.

To transform a compliant person into a committed member of the team, she needs to understand the impact that her actions have on the firm as a whole. You also need to elicit her opinions on how to handle certain situations, and focus her on the objectives. Establishing shared and clear objectives is a key step in leadership, and leadership is all about building commitment in your people. The lone ranger does not take the time to do these things.

You also need to close the gap between espoused ideas and reality. By espoused ideas, I mean what is being said. If what you say doesn’t correspond to the reality as your co-workers understand it, then those on your team will become chronic cynics who tend to ignore you and act in a manner consistent with the way they see you act. If you talk about client service and fail to return calls in a timely manner, you are sending the wrong message and will actually be encouraging the wrong behaviors. Walk your talk if you want company on the journey.

Next, designate someone or hire someone to be your marketing assistant. Some attorneys use virtual assistants who do not work in the office, but perform the required functions remotely. They can arrange luncheon appointments with referrals, keep track of when to contact people, send out information to key referral sources, buy and send gifts, coordinate marketing events, and perform all the other functions required of a sustainable referral marketing system.

Lastly, the most effective approach to ending the lone ranger syndrome and focusing your firm on marketing and client service is to hold an annual marketing retreat. There are a number of important steps to make these events successful, but just scheduling one with everyone involved helps send the message that you want the whole firm to participate in a significant way to provide the best possible experience for your clients and referral sources. These efforts and experiences become part of the referral marketing equation that will help your firm grow and prosper.

End the lone ranger syndrome and you are absolved from Sin #5!

Prior articles in the series:

  • Sin #4: “Stop & Go” Marketing
  • Sin #3: Break the Chaos Paradox
  • Sin #2: Seeing A Stranger In The Mirror
  • Sin #1: Relying On the Kindness of Others
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