For years there has been a crisis of customer service within the legal industry.
Even before the pandemic created a physical disconnect between your attorneys and your clients, many firms have allowed a figurative disconnect to grow between what clients want and what the firm delivers.
Do any of these scenarios sound familiar?
- A prospective client sounds very interested in doing business with you in their online inquiry, but goes radio silent when you respond a few days later.
- A current client complains about how confusing and disjointed it is to email documents back and forth with you. (“Don’t you have some sort of client portal I can use?”)
- A new associate grumbles about how much time they’re wasting fighting with your antiquated filing system.
These are all symptoms of the same disconnect, which has its roots in technology.
Over the past few decades, increasingly rapid advancements in technology have reshaped all of our expectations as consumers. We each have nearly perfect information within arm’s reach at all times, and our tolerance for anything other than instant gratification is next to nil.
Most firms have felt this shift in terms of the simmering tensions listed above. But as technology continues to evolve at exponential rates—and much to the dismay of their clients—most firms have stood resolute, sticking to the status quo.
Now, as we settle into a post-COVID rhythm, our only means of interacting with prospects, clients, and colleagues comes in one digital format or another.
And if your firm is not able to actively and deliberately leverage technology to meet and exceed expectations, these tensions will soon reach their boiling point and cost you in terms of reputation and revenue.
Technology’s Starring Role in the Client Experience
Let’s first consider how a prospective client interacts with your firm. While some may pine for the days when referrals and word-of-mouth alone drove firm growth, the reality is that this journey has transitioned to the internet:
- 67% of the buyer’s journey is carried out digitally
- 83% of people start their search for an attorney by checking online reviews
- 70% will go to an attorney in an inconvenient location if that attorney has better reviews
Already you can see why firms with a more polished and sophisticated digital presence have an advantage.
Then, should that potential buyer become a client, their perception of your firm’s performance will once again depend on your ability to harness technology. To delight your clients, you need to “wow” them on four fronts—a framework I call the four pillars of Exceptional Customer Service: responsiveness, expertise, results, and innovation.
- What it looks like: When your client has a request, concern, or question, you address it fully, you communicate it in a way that suits your client, and you do this in a reasonable amount of time.
- How to achieve it: You devise and implement a thoughtful mobile strategy that empowers your attorneys to be productive regardless of their physical location. You also have collaboration packages (e.g. Slack, Teams) that facilitate efficient internal knowledge transfer.
- What it looks like: You’re able to bring your firm’s collective historical expertise to bear as the situation demands. What you don’t know offhand, you can locate easily and without re‑inventing the wheel.
- How to achieve it: This requires an effective knowledge management strategy—often in the form of a document management system—to help attorneys and staff find relevant work product quickly, as well as tools like video conferencing and secure file sharing to deliver that product to your clients.
- What it looks like: You track and demonstrate your effectiveness as a firm. Your clients (prospective and existing) know, in quantifiable terms, what value you’re bringing to the table—and that they won’t get better results elsewhere.
- How to achieve it: This pillar demands a repeatable process to collect and disseminate the results you’ve measured (e.g. win rate, dollars saved, dollars earned). Your tracking mechanism can be as simple as a spreadsheet, or perhaps a custom field in your DMS.
- What it looks like: Innovative firms anticipate and prepare for impending trends—many of them technical, such as Artificial Intelligence—that that could impact your ability to serve your clients, or that could have legal ramifications for your clients.
- How to achieve it: You hold a person or committee accountable to ongoing technology education efforts such as attending seminars and webinars, subscribing to technology newsletters, or joining the technology section of local legal associations.
Does your firm have specific solutions and strategies in place to meet expectations in each of these areas? To exceed them?
The Pandemic as a Unique Opportunity to Evolve
From my perspective, the legal industry has been presented with a potentially once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
Historically, law firms tend to resist large-scale changes to how they deliver service; according to a recent Altman Weil survey, despite a largely stagnant market, 59% of law firms were “not feeling enough economic pain” to justify an overhaul no matter the potential benefits.
There’s less room to argue now.
Being able to serve and bill your clients effectively whether you’re at home or at your office has become a business imperative. Being able to efficiently communicate and collaborate with a widely dispersed team has become a business imperative. Being able to prove your firm’s value to clients impacted by a recession has become a business imperative.
Now, while you work to fulfill these business imperatives, the key will be to choose the strategies and solutions that will provide the right functionality not from your perspective, but from the perspective of your clients.
Take collaboration, for example. Say you identify a product that will allow your team to talk about and work through a document together in real-time. Great! But when it comes time to get that document over to your client, the process breaks down; there’s no easy or secure way to share it with them besides attaching the current version to an encrypted email. Not so great.
Rather than focusing exclusively on your internal operations, aim to improve your capabilities externally too. That’s how you’ll delight your clients, and that’s how you’ll outpace your competitors.
As we all work to navigate this new and strange pandemic landscape, it can be even more tempting than usual to hunker down and wait for the storm to pass.
Unfortunately, the storm will only grow stronger; even if we’re able to one day go “back to normal” (unlikely as it may be), the pace of technological change will continue to increase exponentially, as will the troublesome gap between your firm’s operations and client expectations.
Unless, of course, we seize the opportunity we’ve been presented with and rally firm leadership behind a full-scale paradigm shift when it comes to your technology.
Why view this tool as a mere cost center when it could fuel your most powerful competitive advantage instead?