If you are like many lawyers, you assume your clients are satisfied. Oftentimes, three reasons support their assumption. Their clients don’t complain, they pay, and they come back. Each of these answers seems reasonable as an indication of client satisfaction. In reality, however, they provide little support.

My Clients Don’t Complain

Many of you eat at restaurants frequently, I suspect. I do. Unfortunately, I often receive lousy food, lousy service or both. Do I complain to my server or to the host/hostess? Sometimes, yes. Sometimes, no. It usually depends on just how bad the food or service was, and upon my mood.

Although I am not shy about voicing my opinion, many times I simply walk out of the restaurant without expressing a word of dissatisfaction. When I do that, the owner will assume that I was a satisfied customer. Will I ever return to the restaurant? No. Will I tell my friends about my bad experience? Yes. Will the owner be able to connect the reason that my friends and I never again enter his restaurant to my bad experience? No.

Substitute a lawyer and an unhappy client for the restaurant owner and the unhappy customer. Same result. The clueless lawyer mistakenly assumes that the client is happy.

My Clients Pay and Come Back

Do you have a cell phone? Do you pay those bills on time? Have you been with the same carrier for more than five years? In spite of this, are you really satisfied with your carrier’s customer service? If you’re like me, I sincerely doubt it. I’ve been with AT&T for more than a decade and have had my share of frustrations. So why haven’t I switched? I assume that the others will treat me just as poorly.

Do your clients pay their bills and keep coming back because they are satisfied? Some are, but some aren’t. Why do unhappy clients who have been subjected to poor client service return? The same reason I’m still with AT&T.

When Won’t They Come Back?

Will I ever leave AT&T? Yes; for either of two reasons.  The first is if a competitor is able to convince me that it is a better value than AT&T. At times, I carefully read those full-page ads claiming unlimited this and unlimited that for what seems to be a reasonable amount. I’m such a skeptic, though. No matter what plan I order, I’m convinced that the carrier will end up charging me about $100 a month (with hidden fees or outrageous rates for going over some limit). That’s the amount I pay now.

However, if a carrier were able to somehow brand itself as the “value cell phone provider” (very unlikely to occur IMHO), I would probably switch.

Alternatively, if AT&T screwed up big-time, I would do whatever it takes to switch – no matter the cost of the competitive carrier or the hassle of switching. In other words, I tolerate minor nuisances, but not major ones.

Many Clients Stay Because of Inertia

As you can see, I have been a long-time customer of AT&T for reasons that have nothing to do with customer satisfaction. Similarly, many of your legal clients come back, even though they believe that the client service has been poor, because they are convinced that competitors provide no unique or superior value to warrant a change. In addition, their attorneys haven’t pissed them off enough to justify a switch.

Is Your Practice in Danger?

Probably not. The good news is that most lawyers provide the same value as their competitors. Few make the effort to significantly distinguish themselves. Moreover, most attorneys are smart enough to avoid major snafus.  But don’t delude yourself. When it comes to client service, your clients are rarely as satisfied as you think.

(photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/sepblog/3941048713/)