Home Management The Strategic Advantage of
Improved Client Services:
An Interview with Lee Cockerell
The Strategic Advantage of Improved Client Services: An Interview with Lee Cockerell
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The Strategic Advantage of
Improved Client Services:
An Interview with Lee Cockerell

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The bar has been raised for customer service across all professions, including law firms!

Lee Cockerell is the former Executive Vice President of Operations for the Walt Disney World® Resort. “As the Senior Operating Executive for ten years Lee led a team of 40,000 Cast Members and was responsible for the operations of 20 resort hotels, 4 theme parks, 2 water parks, a shopping & entertainment village and the ESPN sports and recreation complex in addition to the ancillary operations which supported the number one vacation destination in the world.”

One of Lee’s major and lasting legacies was the creation of Disney Great Leader Strategies which was used to train and develop the 7000 leaders at Walt Disney World. Lee has held various executive positions in the hospitality positions in the hospitality and entertainment business with Hilton Hotels for 8 years and the Marriott Corporation for 17 years before joining Disney in 1990 to open the Disneyland Paris project.

Lee has served as Chairman of the Board of Heart of Florida United Way, the Board of Trustees for The Culinary Institute of America (CIA), the board of the Production and Operations Management Society and the board of Reptilia a Canadian attractions and Entertainment Company. In 2005 Governor Bush appointed Lee to the Governor’s Commission on Volunteerism and Public Service for the state of Florida where he served as Chairman of the Board.

He is now dedicating his time to public speaking, authoring a book on leadership, management and service excellence titled, Creating Magic…10 Common Sense Leadership Strategies from a Life at Disney, which is now available in 13 languages and his latest book, The Customer Rules…The 39 Essential Rules for Delivering Sensational Service. Lee also performs leadership and service excellence workshops and consulting for organizations around the world as well as for the Disney Institute.

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Dan LaBert: These days, law firms are finding themselves under the same pressure to provide world-class customer service no different than hotels, retail stores and resort operations. All companies need to keep the question of why is customer service important at the forefront of their minds. Providing good customer service, not matter what industry you are in is really important. No business can work without the help of their customers and customer experience management is an important part of maintaining good customer experience for their business.

Given your long reputation for inspiring great customer service, what basic customer rules should a law firm (big or small) implement if the practice is to be successful?

Lee Cockerell: Hire the right lawyers and administrative staff and train them in the art of customer service which customers/clients expect from any transaction or relationship.

The Four Customer/Client Expectations are:

  1. Make Me Feel Special: Make me feel special by listening intently to my problem. Get back to me promptly when I call or email you. Explain things to me in a way that I can understand. Be reliable and do what you say you are going to do. Keep your promises.
  2. Treat Me as an Individual: Treat me as an individual by focusing on my problem and helping me to solve it based on my unique situation. Work hard to understand me emotionally.
  3. Respect Me: Respect me no matter what my race, religion, color, creed, level of education, disability, language fluency, gender, sexual orientation, marital status or wealth
  4. Be Knowledgeable and Have Knowledgeable Employees.

Make sure you and all of your employees are knowledgeable to a high level from the receptionist to the attorney. Offer alternatives and be able to explain legal details in a way employees can understand them. Offer your best advice on what you recommend.

Dan LaBert: While the concept of customer service for law firms is slowly catching on, the validity of implementing integrated customer service techniques and technologies is well proven, especially at Walt Disney World. Could you offer our readers an example of a time when superior customer service overruled superior profit?

Lee Cockerell: At Disney, every decision we make is focused on how this will affect our guests. We use the Three Legged Stool model for making decisions.

We always think through the impact on the guest, the cast (employees) and the financial results and then we make the best decision we can. The key is to always include these three in your evaluation before you make a decision. A small example is to go with a voice tree automatic phone system to save money or have a live person answer the phone. We would go with the live person because the public is sick and tired of phone trees.

Dan LaBert: How do you know if your organization provides great customer service?

Lee Cockerell: At Disney World, we interview over two million guests a year in various ways including internet, face to face at the check in and check out and even at the entrance and exit to the parks or when they are getting on or off a ride or buying an ice cream cone. We always know how we are doing and we correct short comings very quickly. We continually (daily) remind every single employee that they own the customer experience even if they are in landscaping, cleaning bathrooms or in face to face positions that serve the customer directly or even by phone. Role modeling by leaders is vital.

Dan LaBert: What role does employee engagement play for firms designed to achieve the highest level of customer service?

Lee Cockerell: I would say that employee engagement is vital if an organization wants to be rated as excellent. Engagement is just a word but real engagement is showing an interest in your customers and paying close attention to them, showing respect to them, getting to know them better each time you have an interaction with them and going out of your way to give them above and beyond excellent service. Having highly engaged employees at every level gives an organization a big competitive advantage. Your customers/clients will not be committed to you unless they are certain you are committed to them.

Dan LaBert: In your recent book “The Customer Rules; 39 essential roles for delivering sensational service,” you say that customer service is not a department. With so many attorneys operating as solo practitioners, usually there are limited resources for support staff, public relations and or marketing personnel. How does a small operation create a brand associated with the highest level of customer service?

Lee Cockerell: I am a one man show since I retired from Disney. I run my publishing, consulting and speaking business all by myself. I have no employees. I answer the phone, I negotiate the deal with the client, I have communication with the client to customize my work for them, I do the contract, I book my travel and I promptly deliver the invoice. My brand is me. People love working with me because I am highly organized. I keep my promises and I deliver above their expectations. I am publishing a new book on November 25, 2014 titled, Time Management Magic…How to Get More Done Every Day. This book teaches exactly how to improve your effectiveness and efficiency. I have a few experts available to do things I am not good at. I have an IT computer expert, a website expert and a tax accountant. I pay them well to take care of my needs when I need them. They are all independent contractors. I treat them better than their other clients do.

Dan LaBert: Day in and day out, attorneys must advise, consult, and address some of the biggest problems in a person’s life. During your time at Walt Disney World, you interacted with all types of people from all places around the globe at the best of times and worst of times. I’m sure our readers can only imagine what it must be like to interact with customers on a hot and sweaty day in Florida, over a holiday break, waiting an hour to board a roller coaster, all for their children. What has been your inspiration for creating great customer service and customer experience no matter the environment?

Lee Cockerell: My personal philosophy is that the customer is not always right, but they are always the customer. If you want to keep them, then treat them well even when they are a pain in the neck. I reminded all of the Disney Cast Members that everyone has a problem you don’t know about and sometimes will become unreasonable for an unknown reason. Our job is to get them back to happy and satisfied as quickly as we can. When a customer is yelling at me or one of my employees, I just remind everyone that they are not upset with you; they are upset with something else going on in their life. Professionals perform their role in the show no matter what. If you are not professional then you are unprofessional. It is a choice each of us makes.

Dan LaBert: Many law firms focus more on providing competent legal work than a client experience, how does a solo practitioner or large firm partner begin to implement change at his/her firm?

Lee Cockerell: I would say they need to take the time to write down what they want the customer/client experience to be from start to finish and then make sure they hire “Can Do Positive People.“ Train them in customer service and hospitality. Clarify for them expectations for performance and then begin to enforce the training and expectations. This often includes getting rid of highly technically staff that have a negative, “Can’t Do Attitude.”

Dan LaBert: In your first book, Creating Magic, you state “it’s not the magic that makes it work; it’s the way we work that makes it magic.” What is your advice for a solo practitioner that practices bankruptcy law or family law, how can they work the magic with clients experiencing very difficult situations?

Lee Cockerell: We all need the same thing when we are experiencing difficult situations. We need someone who will listen to us, give us advice on how to get through the situation and offer alternatives based upon our personal situation. We all need encouragement from time to time. I would make sure every client is communicated with that while life is difficult going through bankruptcy or family issues such as divorce, that there is life after these situations. Encouragement is a powerful tool. Empathy is in short supply. Lawyers could give more of it out. It is free.

Dan LaBert: After a career with Hilton, Marriott, and 16 years as executive vice president with Walt Disney World, how are you enjoying your retirement? What advice can you offer to any attorney contemplating shutting down his/ her practice and entering retirement?

Lee Cockerell: I am loving retirement. I have written three books. I have a thriving consulting, speaking and seminar business. I am making twice as much money as I did at Disney. I am traveling all over the world doing my work which is not really work for me as I really enjoy doing it. It is my golf game. My wife travels with me when she wants to and my clients applaud when I finish a speech or workshop. When I play golf, no one applauds when I am in the woods looking for my ball. My main advice is to have a plan before you retire. Don’t watch TV during the day and make sure you take care of your health, family and finances. Everything else is secondary for me. My main job now is teaching which is very rewarding.

My final advice is to get balance between technical competency, management competency, technological competence and leadership competence. Do this and you will thrive and not just survive.

Check out my website for over 600 blog posts on how to be a better leader, manager and how to implement world class customer service. I am also featured at Thrive15.com. This site gives advice on how to be better in all parts of your life. Use the promotion code, MAGIC for a 30 day FREE trial.

Main article photo taken By B33BE on July 3, 2006.

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Dan LaBert
Dan LaBert
Dan is the Executive Director of the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys. He oversees the daily operations of NACBA and develops strategic direction for the organization in conjunction with the board of directors. NACBA is the only national organization dedicated to serving the needs of consumer bankruptcy attorneys and protecting the rights of consumer debtors in bankruptcy.

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