This article is the third in a three-part series aimed at continuing a discussion on how law firms must compete in today’s legal market on client experience: the culmination of a well-defined culture, the right clients, and tailored, efficient legal service delivery.
I have never met a lawyer who was willing to say, “You know what? Our service just isn’t all that good.” All lawyers think they are providing good service, but service is just that, it’s what we give.
Client experience is how clients feel about it.
Chandra Storrusten with strategy consulting firm Visible Value said, “Client service responds to requests and reactions. A client experience strategy is proactive and intentional. It enables you to better meet the needs and wants of your clients and makes your firm easier to do business with — and ultimately more profitable.”
I once heard a general counsel say that he loved the idea of alternative fee arrangements, but he had also spent 20 years teaching his legal department to read (and chip away at) law firms’ bills, and another five teaching them to use an e-billing software, which was not configured to handle these arrangements. Offering this man a risk-sharing agreement to be paid in flat monthly fees and trued up at the end of the matter would be a ridiculous effort. This would not only create more frustration on his end, but also detract from the otherwise very positive experience he was having with your firm to that point.
Your firm may consider offering alternative fee arrangements “good service” but doing so may not create a positive client experience.
“In every type of service business, the expectations for client experience are rapidly intensifying. It is no longer sufficient to simply hire superb people and hope they will deliver exceptional service,” said Wright Sullivan, a founder, owner and client experience practitioner in professional services. “In the current competitive climate, we have to identify the specific elements of service delivery that lead to our most rewarding client relationships, and systematize those elements. In this way, we will become known for delivering consistently exceptional service and outcomes as a firm.”
Two questions: 1) Do you really know what kind of legal service delivery options and offerings your law firm is equipped to provide? And 2) have you asked your clients what kind of service and experience they would like to have?
If you have identified what differentiates your firm, you likely have a pretty solid start to answering No. 1, but don’t forget to consider options that have nothing to do with the law or the lawyers. You likely have professionals on your staff who are great candidates for secondments (in-house departments are often short on hands), technologists in your IT department who are capable of automating workflows to eliminate redundant or commoditized processes a lawyer cannot bill for or HR professionals who know your business and can help you identify and tap into underutilized talent and capacity all while avoiding the unauthorized practice of law.
As for the second question: many client companies that seem similar may not have the same interests at all. While defining ideal clients and exploring client journeys (as we discussed in Part 2 of this series) helps you understand your key relationships from the 30,000-foot view, it is important to understand their limitations.
“In the thousands of client feedback conversations we have conducted on behalf of law firms, the one theme that is always consistent is one-size-fits-one,” said Laura Meherg, founder and partner at global client service consulting firm Wicker Park Group. “Every client has different needs, preferences and expectations that may change from day to day and project to project. The only way to uncover how you can deliver services they need in the manner this desire is by seeking feedback on a regular basis.”
Are you a large firm with the document bank to justify an automated system, whereby clients can create and customize their own contracts? That’s great, but do your clients care? And are the prospective clients who are interested in this service the same individuals and companies you will be able to delight and convert to enthusiastic advocates of your firm?
If you have answered the culture questions and identified your key clients and prospects, then choosing from the innumerable options available for legal service delivery and creating the strategy for your firm to succeed should be much easier, but not entirely without effort. It would be quite difficult to design a better experience if you don’t yet know what the existing relationship looks like from a client’s perspective.
Answering the above questions requires listening to clients.
A client feedback program should include training for those individuals who will be asking the questions (i.e., anyone other than the relationship attorney and ideally someone in leadership at the firm or a third-party); a set of questions asked of each client interviewed; and a process that incorporates a pre-meeting with the interviewers and relationship attorney, a face-to-face meeting (if possible) to interview the client, and a debrief with the client team (anyone working with the client).
Many firms also include electronic feedback surveys and phone interviews with a broader set of client contacts. Soliciting feedback will give you great fodder to tweak your strategy, which will ultimately determine which legal service delivery models are relevant to your clients and worthwhile for your firm to pursue.
Furthermore, if you are engaged in active listening, digging deeper into each response and cataloguing the answers, you will find out more than you could ever imagine about how to delight your existing clients, attract more clients like them, and exercise your values in ways that are meaningful to them.
We can prognosticate about the future of law and pontificate the importance of innovation, but ultimately, whether the topic is trends in matter pricing or a focus on artificial intelligence and putting data to work, your firm’s success is entirely reliant on your people knowing what they should be focused on, the clientele being the right fit and the resources — both purpose-driven people and strategically deployed tools — being aligned to create the last best experience for those clients, every time.
Brandi Hobbs is the director of client service and strategy at Poyner Spruill. She works closely with the firm’s management committee, attorneys, and teams to increase efficiency within the firm, get to know the industries they serve, deepen relationships with clients, and get creative about their approaches to all of the above. She is also the leader of the firm’s client service department.