July 18, 2006

Everyone expects good service. In fact, your clients and customers deserve it. As a baseline, good service means delivering products and services that don't fall short of expectations. It means answering questions, returning phone calls, meeting deadlines and resolving mistakes—along with other fundamental business activities.

Excellent service, however, comes when you deliver the unexpected. It means going beyond business as usual, listening carefully and taking meaningful steps to understand your clients' businesses. It means demonstrating, day after day, that you are more than a provider of goods and services.

Client-focused companies in the service sector can deliver the unexpected in a number of ways. For instance, you might call your clients, rather than waiting for them to call you. Try forwarding a timely magazine article or scheduling a short meeting over coffee, just to stay in touch. Consider looking beyond the scope of your current projects and delving into the issues that keep your clients up at night: The plant relocation that requires significant layoffs, or the senior business partner whose retirement jeopardizes the company's leadership structure.

More formal methods might include implementing a review process to help identify emerging issues and develop forward-thinking solutions before problems occur. For several years now, Much Shelist has conducted our own client survey program, allowing us to measure satisfaction levels, learn how we can best address evolving legal needs, answer questions about the firm and enhance our performance.

These principles also apply outside the service sector. Companies involved in manufacturing, distribution or sales should make the same effort to understand customer needs and expectations. Don't wait for problems to arise or complaints to roll in or, worse yet, the phone to stop ringing. Identify and respond to concerns with tailored solutions that position you ahead of the marketplace.

In the final analysis, the formula for excellence is simple—listen, learn and lead. By going beyond business fundamentals and basic expectations, by actively listening, and by re-imagining yourself as a proactive business advisor or a customer-focused industry leader, you can set yourself and your company apart and deliver true excellence.

This article contains material of general interest and should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion on any specific facts or circumstances. Under applicable rules of professional conduct, this content may be regarded as attorney advertising.