By Eve Vlemincx.
Some state that the legal profession should evolve from a service to a product, especially when it concerns legal innovation. Often trying to draw a sharp distinction between products and services. However, is it important to distinguish products and services? The truth is that the distinction is smaller and less important than we might think and merely a theoretical one.
First of all the difference between both is quite blurred. Traditionally, legal services were delivered by lawyers and law firms. With the rise of legal tech solutions, such as online legal document preparation tools, the distinction between legal services and legal products is becoming less clear. Clients are no longer limited to just one method of receiving legal advice or assistance. While technology advances and new business models emerge the differences can be difficult to detect. For example, consider the rise of the sharing economy blurring the line between products and services further. Companies like Airbnb and Uber are often described as service-based businesses, but they rely on physical assets (houses and cars, respectively) to provide those services. In many ways, they are both products and services at the same time.
But even in a more traditional example, like a restaurant the line is not quite clear. At first glance, a restaurant might seem like a service-based business. After all, customers are paying for the experience of being served food and drink. However, if we look a little closer, we can see that the food and drink itself is a product. Customers are paying for a physical product that is prepared by the restaurant's kitchen staff. The same applies to the legal industry.
Some argue that by thinking of legal services as a product, lawyers can focus on delivering a consistent, high-quality experience to their clients. They can develop processes and procedures that are streamlined and efficient, making it easier for clients to access legal help when they need it. All that is relevant and crucial and should be true regardless of whether it’s considered to be a service or product. It’s not about product or service but about client experience.
That evolution is already quite a long time on going in other industries. Many retailers are now offering services that are designed to enhance the customer experience, such as personal shopping, styling advice, and tailoring services. These services are often provided as a way of creating a more personalized and engaging shopping experience.
When we focus on client experience optimization, the distinction between products and services is not all that important. What really matters to clients is the overall experience they have when interacting with a firm and the value its providing. Crucial is whether the offering meets its needs.
Let me clarify with a simple example: consider a lamp. When we buy a lamp, why do we buy it? We are not actually buying it for the lamp itself. Rather, we are buying it for the light that the lamp provides. The lamp is simply a means to an end, a tool that helps us achieve the service we want, which is light.
When it comes to other products and services, including in the legal industry the same principle holds true. The crucial factor is whether the product or service effectively solves the client's problem and creates a positive experience. Ultimately, clients care less about whether they are purchasing a product or service and more about whether their needs are being met and whether they are having a good experience. Firms that prioritize the client experience over the specific product or service they offer tend to achieve long-term success.
Consider Apple and Amazon as examples. While these companies are recognized for their products, they have also devoted significant resources to creating an outstanding customer experience. Apple is renowned for providing exceptional customer service, and Amazon has earned a reputation for its prompt and efficient delivery service.
In conclusion, although there are differences between products and services, these distinctions are frequently less significant than we believe. What is most important to clients is how effectively the offering meets their requirements and whether their experience is positive. The nature of the offering, whether it is a product or service, is secondary to these critical considerations. Businesses that prioritize providing a consistent, high-quality experience to their clients can establish trust and loyalty and ultimately achieve long-term success.
About the Author Eve Vlemincx is an advisor on a broad range of topics regarding legal digital transformation – innovation – leadership. In addition she is an advisor for Harvard Business Review, Executive Course Facilitator at Stanford Graduate School of Business and 5 times Stanford GSB LEAD-Award winner.