By Helen Hamilton-Shaw, member engagement and strategy director at Legal Futures Associate LawNet 
I visit a lot of different businesses in the course of my job – both law firms and other types of organisations. This gives me a unique opportunity to compare how the legal sector is shaping up against the commercial world in how they welcome visitors to their business, and it’s fair to say that those that go the extra mile certainly stand out.
Recently I had two very different experiences in the space of a week. On one day I had to travel to see company A. They had confirmed the meeting by email, including detailed travel instructions beforehand. I found the office easily and when I arrived in the car park I discovered a space reserved with my name on it.
Two days later, I was at a meeting with company B. The meeting had been confirmed but no travel instructions included. Their office was quite hard to find; I discovered they had two offices on the same road and being unfamiliar with the area, I wasn’t totally sure which one I was meant to go to. Inevitably, I went to the wrong one first, so had to get back in the car and drive to the other location. When I got there I discovered the car park was full apart from one empty space with a sign in it saying ‘Reserved for Partners’. I had to go back out and find a space on the street and then walk back to the office.
On both occasions when I entered the office I was met with a warm and friendly welcome and an offer of a drink, but which experience do you think left the best impression upon me?
We all know that the earliest interactions are crucial to building a strong relationship. But the first impression starts long before a client walks through your front door. The companies who do this best have taken understanding of the customer journey to another level; where it’s about more than just making sure your reception area is tidy.
Rather, it’s about anticipating the needs of your customer at every point along the journey and making sure that you’re meeting those needs, whatever they might be. This takes a bit of time and thought but the impact can be huge.
Let’s just take one small example and think about what happens in your firm when you book a meeting with a client. Are details confirmed in a follow-up email or letter (depending on who your client is and their preferences)? Do you send instructions for how to find your office, whether by car, public transport or foot? If you have car parking on site, do you offer to reserve a space for your visitors? If not, do you signpost local parking?
And if you have reserved parking on site, think about the message this conveys. If visitors find the only empty spaces are reserved for partners, it implies the partners are more important than they are. If you’re going to reserve some spaces for your senior people, do it in a subtle way.
You should aim to make customers feel that they are important to you at every opportunity. Looking to other sectors can generate more ideas about how to do this. For example, at the Savoy, photos of regular guests and VIPs are put up in the office so the team can recognise them and then always greet them by their name. It’s a small but powerful way of making someone feel important and relatively easy to implement.
Anticipating the needs of your customer demonstrates respect and concern for them as individuals. Most people today have busy, complicated lives – juggling work, family and other responsibilities. When you come across a company that has taken the trouble to think about how they can make things easier for you, it really stands out.
And being remembered for a positive experience is surely something we all want.