The Hotel Trinity (And What Matters to Your Clients)

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Hotels, like law firms, make promises to their prospective clients.

Those promises aren’t always articulated. Often, they’re implicit. It wasn’t until the first time I checked into a hotel room without a window that it occurred to me that “windows” were optional.

Your clients probably have their own beliefs about what’s included in their representation, whether or not you say it.

One time, Lisa and I walked into a hotel room to find a shit stain on the white comforter. I’m serious–it was shit. I gave it the sniff test.

Every hotel needs to hit a threshold of basic acceptability: No bed bugs, blood stains, or horrific smells.

Beyond the deal-breakers, each guest has their own list of concerns. For instance, most of us want our hotel rooms to be safe, sanitary and smell nice. Those requirements convince us to put down our luggage and take a look around, but we still don’t commit to staying in the room.

Before we unpack our bags, we check a few more things. (Personally, I have a list of things I check before I’m willing to settle in.) If the hotel breaks one of those implicit promises, I’ll complain. Sometimes I’ll tolerate the revised promise. Other times I roll my bag down the block to the next place.

Each customer has a slightly different list of secondary priorities, and some willingness to deviate from their list. Everyone has different ideas of what’s critical (like those rock stars who demand a certain color M&M in their dressing room).

I call my personal list the “Holy Hotel Trinity.” Of course, it’s just my list. Yours (and your customers’) will be different.

The Holy Hotel Trinity

The Holy Hotel Trinity reflects my priorities, though I’ve met lots of other travelers with similar concerns.

If the hotel doesn’t satisfy my list, I won’t necessarily walk right out, but it might cause me to write something nasty on TripAdvisor. Or complain. Repeatedly.

Once a hotel fails to meet my expectations, I start to see everything through a filter of disappointment. I’ll walk into the breakfast buffet with a more refined palate. I won’t tolerate a room service delay. And I’ll be far more likely to freak out when the hot tub is perpetually “undergoing maintenance” for my entire stay.

These are my Holy Hotel Trinity priorities.

1. Internet

We say we go on trips to “disconnect,” but we all know that’s bullshit.

Even hotels in rural Cambodia offer WiFi. “Here’s your complimentary welcome drink, a cool face towel, and the WiFi password,” said the young manager. I bowed in response to his bow.

Listen, you give me great WiFi and I’ll give you a prayer-hands gesture all day long. I need the Internet as much as I need oxygen and Diet Coke.

2. Air conditioning

I’m not happy if the AC doesn’t work. (That’s also true of the heat, if we’ve make the mistake of going skiing or something when we could go to a tropical island.)

I like my temperature controlled. Like a lot of people, I have romantic notions about opening the balcony door and letting the cool ocean breeze blow through, but I quickly lock that door and turn on the AC. There might be mosquitos or lizards or something out there, so I’m going to crank the temperature down and sleep under the comforter.

3. Hot water

“There’s nothing like a cold shower on a steamy tropical island,” said no one, ever.

It can be boiling outside, but I still want my shower to be nice and warm. Cold water is a shock to my system, and I want a shock to my system from the shower about as much as I want it from the loose wire poking out of the electrical outlet: not at all.

I’ve learned the hard way to let the water run for a minute or two to see if it gets hot before I unpack.

These three items are my essential list. These are the things I care about beyond the apparent deal-breakers.

I’m a little picky, but not very picky. I don’t need a Nespresso machine, or slippers, or a view of the river. I’ll survive without chocolate on my pillow, turndown service, or an overnight shoe shining service. But I really need WiFi, AC, and hot water with decent pressure.

Call me a princess if you like. I am what I am.

Your Clients Have a List, Too

Your clients have priorities too.

Their list comes in the same format. They’ve got some instant deal-breakers (like bed bugs, blood stains, and horrible smells) and they’ve got some other priorities that vary from client to client.

Your mission, whether you like it or not, is to understand what they’re thinking.

For a moment, let’s speculate about what might be on their list. Every practice is different, so I won’t get this exactly right for yours.

It’s not important whether I get it right for your practice, though. What’s important is that you get it right for your practice.

You need to know what your customers think, what matters to them, and why. Understanding the story they tell themselves will help you figure out how to help them. Otherwise they will just get triggered and become someone else’s client.

How about this list of instant turnoffs? Does it resonate for the people who visit your office?

1. Law license

Most clients want to be sure you’re licensed as a lawyer. Many lawyers hang their licenses right behind their desk because it gives their clients comfort.

Personally, I never hung my license in my office. It wasn’t required and I wanted to use the space for art. But it’s essential in some practice settings.

Know your clients and know what matters to them. Hang that ugly certificate right behind your head if they need to see it.

2. Normal office

Those same clients might never get to see your license if they refuse to get out of their car.

I’ve met clients who drove through the parking lot without even slowing down. They were so distressed by the exterior of the office, they changed their minds without entering.

A while back, this one lawyer asked me to come see his office. He was excited about being in the hip warehouse district. I went, but it wasn’t hip. It was creepy. The street seemed abandoned, the entrance wasn’t obvious, and there was no pedestrian or vehicle traffic. I wondered if my car would be safe. Hopefully his clients are hipper, cooler and less anxious than me.

3. Respect

“Do you know who I am?” is an existential human question. That’s true even when we’re nobody (yeah, I know, every human has value, but you know what I mean).

Disrespect cuts right to our core. It makes your clients hate you. When you take too long to return their call, and they have to keep trying to get your attention, they feel like they don’t matter.

When you can’t get them on your calendar for two weeks, they feel unimportant. When you tell them they can’t afford your fee, they feel small and impotent.

It’s downright disrespectful.

It’s possible that a law license, a normal office, and respect are the bed bugs, blood stains, and horrific smells of your practice. Are these the deal-breakers? Are these the priorities that turn people away before they settle into that chair across from your desk?

Now, your clients may focus on other issues. Maybe they care about your appearance, reviews from former clients, or your handshake grip. It’s your job to figure out what they care about.

The Three Cs

Once your client gets past the “deal-breakers,” they’ll have some additional concerns. The following are pure speculation, but I bet they apply to your clients as well. How do you figure out what matters to them? Ask them! They’re dying to tell you.

Here’s my speculative list:

1. Confidentiality

Your clients’ problems matter greatly to them. They’d like to believe you hold their secrets in confidence, but it’s easy to undermine that belief.

A receptionist repeating the names of other clients aloud can shake the confidence of the people in the waiting room. File folders scattered about with names visible can make them worry. Stories you tell to illustrate a point can go over the line and make clients wonder if their misfortune will be the new story you tell.

Many of our clients are afraid their mother, their boss, or their spouse will find out what happened. Your casualness about their matter, or about the required secrecy and privacy, will rattle some people as much as a cold shower rattles me.

2. Caring and concern

A phrase like “This is no big deal” is often calculated to calm your client, but they might hear it differently.

Their problem is a very big deal to them. Whether it’s a new will, a real estate closing, the sale of their business, or anything else, it’s a big part of their life.

You can even send the same “no big deal” message without actually saying it. When you meet a client and exhibit disinterest (stepping out to take a call, letting your staff interrupt, glancing at your phone, slouching in your chair, interrupting the client, or even just failing to verbally express concern), you signal that their problem isn’t important.

It’s the little things that signal caring and engagement: kindness, compassion, small favors, and listening respectfully.

Clients appreciate when the receptionist expects them. They feel welcomed when you greet them personally in the lobby. They feel cared for when the paralegal helps them carry document boxes to their car, when you call to check in, and when you give them your mobile number for emergencies. That’s caring and concern.

3. Calls

In theory, clients understand that you’re busy. They appreciate that you can’t return every call immediately.

You may have set expectations about returning calls during your initial consultation, but they didn’t think that applied to them. That call-return policy is for other clients.

No client feels good about waiting for a return call. When you are slow to return their calls, you are creating bigger problems.

At the root of nearly every poor relationship with a client is a failure to communicate adequately.

You might think they’re upset about the outcome of their matter or some other development. But most of the time you can trace an upset client back to a lack of communication.

Regular communication can turn bad results into a good engagement. Poor communication can turn a good result into a bad engagement. The primary reason clients refer business to you, write positive reviews about you, and pay your invoices on time is communication.

What’s on Your Client’s List?

Obviously, my speculation about your clients’ concerns won’t hit the mark in every instance, but you can easily identify what they care about.

You listen to these folks all day long. You spend hours in conferences listening to them ramble. You can identify their priorities if you listen (often they have little to do with the matter at hand). They all have certain promises–explicit or implied–they expect you to fulfill. Once you fully appreciate their perspective, you can address their concerns.

You may find yourself killing bed bugs, cleaning up blood stains, and eliminating horrible smells, but I bet you’ve got those deal-breakers under control. The additional concerns, however, are worth your energy to uncover.

You’ll have to dig down and find out if your clients are concerned with The Three C’s or if they care about something else. Spend some time standing in their shoes, thinking the way they think, and ascertaining their priorities.

Lots of hotels get through the day without exposing guests to shit stains, but many fail to provide WiFi, good air conditioning, and hot water. It’s tough for hotels to stay on top of everything. It’s tough for you too. It all starts with identifying what your clients care about

Once you figure out which “promises” they assume are part of the deal, you can focus on creating a positive experience.

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