Unless you have a monopoly in your area, differentiating on core legal services is difficult, perhaps impossible. It has been made even more challenging during the last decade in an internet dominated and consequently increasingly transparent marketplace. The result is that firms can be tempted to try and compete on price alone rather than overall value, which is a sure way to ruin unless you can be assured of attracting huge volumes of clients.
In simple terms the client experience delivered by any law firm can be divided into four key elements:
- The experience and expertise of the team and consequent quality of the services the firm is offering.
- The effectiveness of the systems and processes that deliver those services to clients - how easy are you to do business with?
- The variety and relevance of the communication channels open to clients - how easy are you to access?
- The personality the firm projects and the depth of relationships the firm is able to build with its clients - what did it feel like?
Systems and processes are very important as in a time pressed world nobody appreciates confusion, complication or errors. High quality data management is critical to ensure processes are efficient and client expectations are met. This can be as simple and as important as always returning calls within the promised time, sending quotations promptly and accurate billing.
There is no point in having great expertise and services if your clients find it easier to do business with your competitors. Channels are therefore essential for success – a concept that didn’t even exist ten years ago beyond face to face and telephone. Any innovations in channel must be relevant, omni channel capability can be very important, but only if it represents a genuine benefit in the eyes of your existing and target clients.
However, in my experience, many firms focus most of their client experience development on these first three elements to the detriment of the fourth. Perhaps this is because engagement, how interacting with the firm makes clients feel, is the least tangible of the four elements - but it can be the most powerful.
The proactive management of client engagement isn’t really a challenge in a very small firm of two or three employees as the client relationships are very transparent to all. If clients aren’t happy the issues can easily be identified and resolved. When the firm grows to 5, 10, 20, 50 or 100+ employees the quality of client engagement must be proactively managed if it is to be consistent enough to give the firm a brand identity or personality. At that size the firm will have organically grown its own internal culture and that will have a significant effect on how its clients are treated.
To proactively manage client engagement you need to revisit why the firm was born in the first place. What did the firm believe it could do for its clients at its inception to make the business a viable proposition? Reconnecting with, or reinventing, that core purpose, and articulating the employee behaviours that support it, forms the foundation of an engagement framework. Measurement follows and you need measure how employees are experiencing those behaviours from colleagues and if clients are positively influenced by them. Inspirational leadership is key to the development of engagement, supported by HR processes that recognise behaviour as well as the performance of individuals. Finally, the articulated purpose of the firm, along with the supporting behaviours, gives you a personality blueprint for recruitment.
It’s not a case of one or the other, all four elements are interdependent, but proactively managing and projecting a consistent brand personality for your firm will give you an unassailable point of sustainable differentiation with which to grow your business.
- Have you recently taken a long hard objective look at your client proposition?
- Can you really differentiate on your services, or are you relying on price to compete?
- Are your processes, both internal and client facing, at least as efficient if not better than your competitors?
- Are you easy to find and access for existing and prospective clients?
- Do your digital channels project the personality of your business or do they just describe what you do?
- Do you project a distinct personality through your employees consistently enough to differentiate your firm and engender loyalty and advocacy from clients?
About Andrew McMillan
Andrew started his career as a management trainee with the John Lewis Partnership. Over the next eighteen years he led a number of selling teams in different branches. He was then asked to lead on customer experience for the group. In 2012 Andrew set up his own consultancy specialising in employee engagement, customer experience and the link between the two. He is also in demand internationally as a conference speaker and chair.
Andrew McMillan draws upon his three decades experience at John Lewis to share his insight on creating a distinct customer experience, leading teams and engaging employees. He explains that consistency is key to reputation and the whole team has to be brilliant with the customer, not just some, but all of the time. His role in defining and growing the John Lewis brand has been key to its success today.