What A Lemon Taught Me About Being a Client

After more than 20 years of working with clients on litigation communications projects, I became a litigant.

I learned that it’s no fun at all.

The whole saga started 14 months ago, when I started a lease on a new car and on the day I took delivery, a piece of vital technology in the car failed to work properly. For 14 months, it never consistently worked, despite two complete replacements and weeks upon weeks upon weeks in service. Even one of the loaner cars I drove over the summer, more than six months into the ordeal, with just eight miles on it, had the same issues. It was clearly the part(s) and not just my vehicle.

This was indeed a first-world problem but frustrating nonetheless. The dealership did all it could so it became clear in the late summer that the only remedy was filing a Lemon Law lawsuit. I didn’t know anything about Michigan’s Lemon Law. I wish I still didn’t.

Over the summer, I got connected to a law firm that specializes in cases like this and in September, I became a litigant, filing a suit court to order the manufacturer to buy out the lease, pay the attorney fees and give me a few bucks to help me get started on another lease. The attorneys did what they do and in November, the manufacturer agreed to settle the suit. For some reason, it took until late January for me to be able “surrender” the lemon.

When I turned this daily customer service battle over to attorneys and paralegals, all of a sudden I had to be a professional services client, the other side of the relationship from what I’m used to. I remembered something a longtime client who ran marketing for a professional services firm told me about a decade ago. All of the research shows that professional service clients really only care about two things, fundamentally. One, they want their advisor to really know their stuff and understand the problems at hand. And two, they have to be responsive to client needs and requests. Everything else surveyed pales by comparison.

I’m now convinced that’s all absolutely true. But I still really wanted to be a good client.

Yes, it was my car and my money, but it was the lawyers’ expertise. I had to trust them, despite my continually growing impatience. Also, they needed me to submit a ton of paperwork. While that was not what I wanted to do, I had to go along with it because it’s what I needed to do. I couldn’t pretend there was magic involved. They had to prove my case and I had to help them. This, like the PR relationship dynamic, is a contact sport. And importantly, to be a good client, I had to treat them like the experienced professionals they are. While I craved updates constantly, I had to respect that this is what they do all day long and if there’s something they needed me to know, they would tell me when they needed to know it. They wanted this case to end successfully as badly as I did.

The shoe was very much on the other foot. But I hope they agree that it fit. It really didn’t take that much effort to not be a lemon of a client.