Requirements vs. Needs, the gap in customer satisfaction

Managing client relations is a complicated matter, both because of the various biases and preconceived ideas that may be present in the face of the claim that brings the firm, and because of the fear of costs or the result. The first step to a good professional relationship is to understand what is being asked of us and to create an appropriate expectation of what is possible within the rule of the law.

A perfect scenario to understand the paradox between requirements and needs is the divorce lawsuit. Even if you are not involved in family law, you can surely imagine the situation of receiving a troubled client who tries to explain to you that his marriage has deteriorated to the point that cohabitation is impossible and he wants to divorce his partner.

In principle, the assignment is simple: you just need to determine if the dissolution of the marriage is contemplated in the legal framework of your jurisdiction and then follow the steps established by law to execute it. A more or less logical sequence of steps could be to know if there are minor children, to determine the assets of the marriage, with its debts and investments, to raise an agreement of custody and visits, to write the document, to ratify it, to present it to the judge and to proceed to the communication of the new civil status to all the interested parties.

It does not matter if the procedure is more or less similar in your zone of residence or if there are adittional details to be fulfilled. I wanted to present it in terms of an administrative procedure, with a minimum judicial intervention to guarantee the interest of the minors and a fair distribution of the patrimony. That is what you have been asked to do when you are required to mediate in a divorce.

But you can easily understand that delivering the final documentation of this type of procedure is rarely going to mean client satisfaction. One thing is the technical requirement (to formalize the dissolution of the marriage bond) and another is the emotional need. And this can be very varied. It can be a marriage that has slipped into personal bankruptcy and they live bitterly for the accumulated debts, up to the point that one of the two parts has decided to move away and to initiate a new life. It may be that one of the spouses has found a new job opportunity somewhere else and their partner does not want to give up their current life, which ends up destroying the cohabitation.

The reason that has led to the decision of divorce marks the emotional need of the client, who can look for legal stability in his new stage, economic protection in front of the debts of the couple, protection in case of a violent cohabitation. It is even necessary to recognize that some people only seek personal revenge and inflict as much damage as they can on their ex-partner, either by taking away their property or by separating from their children.

It is important to understand that there is a difference between the technical requirement the client poses, and the emotional need he wants to solve. When you buy a house, the assignment is, technically, to formalize a real estate contract. But in reality what the client usually wants is the tranquility of acquiring a home without burdens, hidden defects or surprises that can ruin his life. And this need is completely different from that of a client who only wants to buy the house as a financial investment and does not plan to occupy it.

The problem with all these scenarios, is that the results are not measurable. Often it is not possible to make an objective description of what the client is asking us, because emotions, anguish or illusions cannot be reflected with numbers. Much less with references to current regulations.

Defining clear needs when taking on the job is important, especially because it creates expectations that the client will use in the end to determine whether or not he is satisfied. Here it does not matter that the written assignment states that he wanted to get a divorce, if we do not adequately reflect the emotional concern. Therefore, accepting the job must be conditioned to the understanding of those emotional needs and the possibility of giving them satisfaction with the legal tools at our disposal.

It is always possible to induce a small adjustment between the initial expectations and the reality of what is possible. It will not always be to the same degree with all clients, because not everyone has good emotional control of their needs or is predisposed to listen to their lawyer’s advice. But to make promises that cannot be kept, with the excuse that “technically” the original assignment has been fulfilled, is to lose the client and not to be paid for the services rendered.

Faced with the frustration that “his lawyer has betrayed him”, the client will look for excuses not to pay, will stop answering the calls and will certainly transfer his resentment to his environment and contacts, which may include posting the case on social networks, with its particular bias where you will be the bad guy and another one of those lawyers who only think about getting money out of him without worrying about his problems. At that moment, no client values whether what she was asking for was viable or not; only that she had put her trust in you and that you had betrayed her.

That is why it is important, when taking requirements and assuming the assignment, to differentiate between the technical requirement they are making to us, which is their legal viability, and the need they are trying to cover, which is what really needs to be solved. The decision to accept or not an assignment is entirely yours, but the greater the gap between one element and another, requirement against need, the greater the possibility of it going wrong and you end up losing the client.

In conclusion, the success of a job depends on its technical execution, but that is useless if the high-level need is not solved, which must be perfectly clear to both parties from the beginning. That is why proper management of legal services and projects must include a step in which the client confirms that we have understood what he is asking of us, not to put it in a contract that we can later take out to justify a misunderstanding, but precisely to avoid the misunderstanding.