Marketing a law firm has traditionally relied – to a large extent anyway – upon the legal accomplishments of the law practise. But that’s not the way you need to approach the development of a good law firm marketing strategy.
Micah Solomon is an author, entrepreneur and speaker who consults on customer service issues, among other things. In a column written for Forbes he outlines how the legal industry needs a reality check if it thinks the development of a customer base should rely on legal results alone.
Clients, after all he says, don’t even understand the law on a technical level. He offers five tips for lawyers.
Even if you’re in a litigation practice, where you’d think the scorecard would be cut and dried, in reality it’s hard for outsiders to determine what represents a good result in any particular case.
By contrast: Whether or not your office seems well run in a business sense? And whether or not you bill clients for internal lunches you’d have eaten anyway? These points are easy for clients to judge you on. Therefore, unfair though it seems, it’s in your interest to focus on building client loyalty through angles other than pure, easy-to-misconstrue legal results. Most specifically, by dramatically improving the client experience.
Now, you could certainly suspect me of having tunnel vision here, since I’m a client service consultant to law firms and the legal industry and a speaker on these issues. So here’s what business development and marketing pioneer in the legal industry, Joi Scardo says: “It’s generally accepted [among clients and potential clients] that lawyers will provide high quality legal services, and what sets a firm apart in today’s competitive market are the intangibles, such as true client care and service.”
Providing exceptional client service isn’t easy. It is, however, worth it.
Creating true client loyalty is one of the most powerful and reliable ways to build a strategic, sustainable advantage for your practice. Truly loyal clients are less price sensitive, more willing to forgive your small foibles, and—most importantly—largely immune to competitive entreaties from the firm across the street or across the continent.
Here are five of the tips I offer to law firms I work with. These will help get you on your way to building the kind of client loyalty you can put in the bank.
1. Modern clients expect speedier service than did any generation before them, and faster service wins the day with them. If a contract draft is going to take you four days to deliver, first get back to the client immediately, explaining the length of time you’re going to need; then dig in to the actual work needed. Clients don’t know what is involved in completing legal work; they figure complex requests can be taken fulfilled of as automatically and speedily as fulfilling an order of cufflinks at Amazon.com.
2. You’re setting the bar too low if you benchmark your service solely against prevailing standards at other law firms. It’s time to raise your game: Benchmark yourself against the best in service-intensive industries, because that’s what your clients will do. Clients have expectations set by the best players in hospitality, the financial services industry, and other areas where experts have made a science of customer service.
3. Your legal skills can actually get in the way when it comes to resolving client problems—a courtroom approach is not going to help when working with your clients. Resolving client service issues means knowing how to apologize for service lapses pointed out to you by a client (billing errors and untimely or incomplete day-to-day client care, for example). It means getting rid of a “let’s sort out the facts here and allocate responsibility” attitude when you are confronted by a client upset with she perceives to be a client service gaffe. Instead, take your client’s side in these situations, immediately and with empathy, regardless of what you think the “rational” allocation of “blame” should be. And spread this approach throughout your staff through role-playing and other training devices, so it will serve you fully every time a client hits the fan.
4. Appropriate pricing, and appropriate presentation of that pricing, matter. Clients notice if your minimum rate for proofreading documents is some astonishing figure like $350 an hour—so find a way to get it down—for example by using paralegals or trained secretaries. (You’ll make up the difference easily in retained clients and referrals.) Don’t bill for large amounts of unexplained “copying” or other generic-sounding charges; explain such charges and how they assist your client. And for Pete’s sake, don’t charge for that Starbucks latte your traveling attorney would’ve bought anyway.