It’s often said that there is no loyalty among law firm clients anymore and, therefore, that law firms should should expect increasing churn among their fickle buyers. This assumption is often framed as an inevitability.
But is that truly the case? Is there nothing that firms can do stem the tide of clients coming and going?
There’s no doubt that today’s law firm client has access to more information and is more discerning than ever before. But for savvy, creative law firms, this presents an opportunity to capitalize on this turbulent, transitional marketplace. By focusing on the brand experience that they provide to their clients, law firms can effectively distinguish and differentiate themselves from competitors.
WHAT IS BRAND EXPERIENCE?
There are two types of services that lawyers can provide to clients. The first is legal service, which relates to quality of professional skill and work product. Legal service is, obviously, critically important to the success of a client relationship. But let’s face it, most clients cannot distinguish between good and great work product. Moreover, basic competence and technical proficiency are often presumed – table stakes when it comes to business development opportunities.
The second type of service lawyers provide is client service, which relates to the quality of brand experience one creates. The previous chapter focused on the importance of building a personal brand, which involves telling clients and prospective clients what to think about you. But that is only half of the brand equation. Equal, if not more, attention must be focused on creating an authentic brand experience, where your brand speaks for itself through its interaction with clients.
So what does this mean in the real world? While many clients cannot judge for themselves the quality of legal work product, all clients can distinguish between an attorney who returns calls and responds to emails in a timely fashion and another who doesn’t; one who writes clearly, and another whose communication is filled with jargon and legalese; one whose receptionist is pleasant and reception area is aesthetically pleasing, and another whose staff is rude and workspace is cluttered; and one who proactively counsels, educates and imparts wisdom, and another who is always reactive.
Brand messaging can be knocked off – that’s a big reason why most firms look and sound so similar. But unique, authentic brand experiences cannot.
THE SIX PILLARS OF BRAND EXPERIENCE
There are six pillars to creating an awesome brand experience. They include:
- The Pitch. Instead of reciting bios and reading PowerPoint slides, lawyers should dig into the details of the challenges faced by the prospective client to demonstrate not just a sense of who the attorneys are, but what it would be like to work with them.
- Onboarding. For many lawyers and law firms, “onboarding” a client involves an exchange of signatures on an engagement letter full of legalese dealing with “mandatory arbitration” and “forum selection” clauses. Not only is this unpleasant for clients, it’s a missed opportunity for lawyers. Onboarding should be a discovery process during which you get to know your client and the client gets to know you.
- Communication. Nothing can spoil a relationship quicker than failing to communicate timely and effectively with a client. If a firm can determine how a client prefers to receive information, can communicate with the client in a proactive manner, and can provide the client with an outlet for communicating questions and concerns, it will provide a brand experience that most firms don’t.
- Billing practices. We all know clients disdain endless series of .1 and .2 time entries on bills. For a better brand experience, firms should prepare bills that explain the value provided, not simply the services provided. Better yet, don’t sell time. Declare independence from the timesheet and adopt a value pricing model.
- Hospitality. Does visiting your office feel like a trip to the dentist, or to The Ritz-Carlton? Drab decor, rude or unhelpful staff and lack of basic amenities such as hot coffee and cold water all diminish a client’s perception of the value being provided. Many lawyers forget that while a client’s matter may seem routine to them, it’s anything but to the client. Most clients, unless they have substantial experience working with lawyers, are nervous when interacting with lawyers and their staff members. They are unfamiliar with the process, wary of the costs, and generally unsure of themselves. Good hospitality puts anxious clients at ease
- Training and Education. Clients engage lawyers not just because they are smart, but because they want to get smarter themselves, too. Client training and education, therefore, is a big part of brand experience. Not only is it appreciated by clients, but it’s a great way to stay close to clients between matters.
We all know that it’s much easier to retain an existing client than to find a new one. And for most firms, expanding existing relationships is a leading source of new business. Provide a service to a client and you’ll earn a fee. But provide a positive, memorable experience and you’ll earn not just a fee, but a loyal ally and enthusiastic advocate for your firm. Clients will come back for more – and bring others with them.