The Customer Experience

For some years we have focused on the ‘client journey’ as a way of engaging with the client’s experience with a firm, from first hearing of the firm’s services through to becoming (and remaining) a loyal client. Our firm opinion has always been that, while excellent technical advice should be a given, service is the basis on which many clients will differentiate between firms and ultimately judge the quality of their experience. This will feed through to the bottom line, as retaining an existing client involves a significantly lower financial investment than acquiring a new client.

These views, largely born of experience working with our own clients in the SME legal sector, have recently been bolstered by robust evidence in the form of Lawnet’s two-year research project for their new White Paper, The Customer Experience: Lessons for law firms. This paper, following nearly 25,000 client experience questionnaires and 1,100 mystery shops across Lawnet’s member community, concludes that customer service and communication are the most important drivers to future law firm growth.

Positive First Impressions

The client journey often starts with first impressions made at the firm’s offices, or when lawyers are out meeting potential clients, and in many cases the first contact a potential client will have with the firm will be via the website. It is therefore imperative that these first impressions are positive, and it can be helpful to give someone within the firm ownership of this area.

What may come as a surprise to some is the relatively low priority clients place on cost as a factor in their decision to instruct a firm – in this research a mere 4% of respondents quoted cost as a reason, and only 3% saying advertising was an influencing factor. Far more important were speed of response, upfront clarity on timescales and fees, regular progress reporting and fees updates.

This highlights the importance of follow up when enquiries are received, and of communication throughout the process. Research by Forrester found that 41% of consumers expected a response to an email within 6 hours of sending it, underlining just how efficient clients expect firms to be. At the heart of this is training, ensuring that all of the firm’s people understand the importance of communication skills and buy in to a culture of openness throughout. Enquiry management also requires a clear system to keep in touch at key points, respond accordingly, and capture information effectively.

Confident Conversations

As part of any training programme, firms should consider the sort of conversations their people will be having with clients. Telephone skills and conducting effective face to face meetings are important, but content is crucial and many fee earners especially feel uncomfortable when broaching subjects such as fees or asking for recommendations and referrals. With the right training, people can address these issues tactfully and positively – and are far more likely to achieve the desired outcomes.

Lawnet firms are often already well-known in their communities for the high level of service they offer, but this research is important as it provides solid data to back up what many partners in top firms have always instinctively known – that excellent customer service is the key to client retention, and that retention is in turn key to profitability (according to Lawnet, the cost of acquiring a new client is 6-7 times higher than that of retaining an existing one).

In a highly competitive market, firms need to maximise any advantage they can, and this is far more likely to be in service and improving the client’s experience than in the legal advice they offer (which should, of course, be of the highest standard in any event).