Something happened recently that has never happened to me before. A friend recommended a restaurant to me for two reasons.

Whenever I get to talking with friends about where to eat out, for me, each restaurant has a specific reason to choose it. At 21 Main, I like the sushi. For a great steak, I want to hit up Beefeaters.

Each restaurant for me has its own USP – Unique Selling Proposition. And, by unique, I mean one!

So I was surprised when my friend, Doug, told me about a new restaurant in Myrtle Beach, called Solé. “It’s the best food in town, Ken,” said Doug, “but you gotta meet the owner and hear his story.”

With two reasons to go, it wasn’t long before I took my wife, Terry, down to Solé to give it a try.

First Impressions

The owner, Carlos, instinctively knows how make a great first impression. As we were being led to our table, we were asked if we’d been to the restaurant before. As it was our first time, we were treated to Carlos’ story:

Originally from New York, his whole family moved to Florida and his parents opened a big restaurant that is still successful today. Carlos sold his share and moved up to Myrtle Beach to be closer to his grandmother. Instead of retiring and living off the money he made, he decided to open his own restaurant, using the recipes he learned from his mother and grandmother.

Carlos also warned us upfront that he was still training his new staff members and apologized in advance for any snafus during our service.

Well, Doug was right.

You still need to have good food if you want to run a successful restaurant, but Carlos also has a great story to tell. I liked the guy. Combine that with the low-key heads-up about his new employees and it didn’t matter that the service wasn’t quite perfect.

While I would give the food 5/5, I’d score the service only 4/5. But, that’s OK because he’d only just opened and he’s fixing the niggles.

Now I’m not sharing this with you because I like writing restaurant reviews. There are some lessons here for law firm owners.

Facts Tell, But Stories Sell

First, it doesn’t matter how technically competent you are, whether you’re a chef or a lawyer, the same principle holds true. Facts tell, but stories sell. Carlos managed to give every restaurant customer a story that they could go away and tell as their own story – about how they met Carlos the owner, this is his story and his food is amazing. “You gotta try this place out.”

The story helps to make the sale.

So for law firm owners, while you may be technically competent at handling your clients’ cases, that doesn’t generate a great word-of-mouth story. It won’t necessarily get you business. Think about it:

“How was your lawyer in your car accident case, Jerry?”

“He was technically competent, Larry.”

I can’t see that conversation making your law firm’s phone ring.

Even being an expert doesn’t automatically make you the obvious choice. Sometimes “expert” is a fancy way of calling someone a pain in the behind.

Not Just About Expertise

What gives your clients a great story to tell is all the other stuff that doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with technical competence. It’s about how you engage and connect with your clients as fellow human beings, as real people you’re trying to help.

Each client has reached out to your firm because of some problem in their life that you’re helping them overcome. The story you want them to tell – about why their friends should use your law firm – comes from the heart, not the head.

Each client has a different story to tell. Give them a great story to tell about their experience with your law firm.

If there’s a story behind why you started your law firm, use that story and make it a part of the conversation with your clients.

Find out what your clients really need to make their lives easier and help them make it happen. You can be about more than just shuffling paperwork. Accountants shuffle paperwork. Lawyers change lives. Give your clients that life-improving story to share about your law firm.

The second lesson from Carlos’ restaurant that’s relevant to your firm is this: first impressions count.

I’d heard about some restaurants using a “Have you been here before?” script, but this was the first time I’ve experienced it myself. Not that it felt scripted.

By sharing his story, Carlos set the stage for what we were going to experience and managed our expectations: for example, warning us his servers were new employees.

This was a great first impression. It’s the reason I’m sharing this story with you now. It’s the reason Doug told me about the restaurant in the first place.

If I liked Solé only because of its food – and Carlos had just stayed in the kitchen, not sharing his story – then I wouldn’t be sharing this story with you at all.

That’s the secret to great word-of-mouth recommendations. You have to be both technically competent and give your customers a great story to tell. And it all starts with first impressions.

What first impression are you giving your potential clients? Take a fresh look at the journey and experience of a new client with your firm. Think about what you can fine-tune to make a great first impression like Carlos.