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  • Nick Hague and Paul Hague

Softening the legal eagles

We are all familiar with the old saying “the customer is king”. You wouldn’t think so the way some companies treat their customers. Nowadays you often have to sign terms of agreement that run to dozens of words (if not pages) before a company will do business with you. Even emails from a company are signed off with a dense paragraph of text making you nervous about forwarding the note to somebody else. These unfriendly words aren’t the brainchild of a copywriter in the marketing department; they are from the hand of the company lawyer.


Companies have lawyers because companies are great targets for litigation. Even if a company is in the right, a mischievous customer could hire an aggressive lawyer to threaten it with adverse publicity. The in-house lawyers are also responsible for checking the lease and contractual agreements but crucially they are there to ensure that the company doesn’t get sued. Our mission, flying the customer experience flag, is to generate the best possible outcomes for our customers and we don’t like that heavy legal text because it makes a company seem cold and even hostile.


It wasn’t always so. We know that many moons ago people did business on a handshake and a gentleman’s agreement. In Asia this is often still the case. For sure they are becoming a bit more legalistic but even now, a Chinese contract is significantly thinner than one prepared by Western lawyers.


There are historical reasons for this. Until recently China did not have an accessible legal system. There were no courts or third parties to enforce the agreements. People doing business in China depended on the relationship between individuals. Trust is in the relationship and not the contract. Wouldn't that be wonderful if it was the case in the West?


What can marketing people do about this? Company lawyers often have senior positions within an organisation. They may well out-rank the customer experience manager. Lawyers are necessary to sort out leases, property purchases, trademarks, employment contracts and the like. It is when they stick their fingers in the customer’s pie it begins to get messy. The answer must be to educate the legal eagles, at least to coach them in the importance of creating an enjoyable customer experience and building customer loyalty.


Lawyers are brought up to be combative. Marketers are brought up to be collaborators. There is a culture difference. Lawyers understand the word client and they bristle against the word customer. Whereas lawyers used to work in their own legal bubble, today they must operate in a marketplace with a variety of other disciplines – production, accounting, marketing, and human resources. It is the responsibility of the customer experience team to bring the lawyers on board and to soften their customer communications without them feeling they have lost power. The customer will always be king even though they aren't always in the right. If we can persuade our legal friends to sacrifice a few legal points to the customer everyone will benefit in the long run with higher sales, greater profits and improved customer loyalty.

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