The client quid pro quo

Do your clients believe your firm’s services are good value given the cost? If you don’t know the answer to that question, how can you be sure your clients will call on you the next time they have a need? I would argue that the next imperative facing business developers is how to connect the dots between their client feedback data and their other client development intelligence.

At an individual or team level, it’s likely that you understand the needs of your clients. The problem is that this deep understanding is siloed. It is not understood at a level that can inform corporate strategy. Without a systematic approach to understanding customer value and a commitment to act based on this understanding, it’s of little benefit to the firm. In fact, it puts your firm at genuine risk of hurting relationships and losing clients.

In today’s highly competitive environment, law firms can’t afford to be blasé about the value they deliver. There are just too many other options available. Top performing law firms, therefore, need to get better at meeting client expectations of value.

The rise of client value management

There’s a temptation with professional services firms to conclude that clients measure value from the outcome of a matter or job. But industry research indicates that clients choose firms for reasons much more closely aligned with the overall experience of the work than within the outcome itself. 

For example:

  • Understanding your client’s needs, goals and objectives
  • Being well-informed
  • Sharing information with your colleagues so that everyone understands what’s happening 
  • Anticipating issues and being proactive.

Business-to-consumer companies are well versed in the importance of providing value. But it’s measured little and understood less in the legal industry. Almost every firm has programmes for managing strategic accounts and client feedback. But often the goals and the outputs of these programmes are not related. Key account programmes are almost always defined based on the value firms derive from clients without explicitly identifying the value firms deliver. That has to change.

Look through your customers’ eyes

Ensuring that your firm is meeting client expectations begins with measuring its performance. For example, you could use a system developed by Bain & Company consultant and author Frederick Reichheld to see what clients think, resulting in a Net Promoter Score (NPS) (see www.netpromotersystem.com). This methodology asks your clients how likely they are to recommend your firm to a friend or colleague on a scale of 0 to 10. Respondents are then divided into three categories, depending on the score they give. They may be:

  • Promoters: The firm’s strongest allies, who are most likely to promote the firm to others
  • Passives: Those that are likely to be satisfied with the firm but don’t actively promote it
  • Detractors: Those that are likely to be unsatisfied and may even be looking to switch to a new firm.

Based on the insights resulting from this effort, you can implement programmes and initiatives to maximise the value you deliver. Why do it? Bain analysis shows that companies that achieve long-term profitable growth have an NPS twice as high as the average company and NPS leaders on average grow at more than twice the rate of their competitors.

What our clients told us

Wilson Allen sees the value in this approach and has embarked on a value-management initiative. We recently completed an NPS study with ClearlyRated. It has given us incredibly useful insights – not just a benchmark about our performance, but also how we compare to peers and other providers in similar industries.

In going through the findings from the study, it was encouraging to see answers such as:

  • We could not function without them
  • Our experience has been excellent
  • I have confidence in the work being performed and trust them completely
  • They go above and beyond and they’re fun to work with.

Our egos were collectively stroked to earn ‘world-class’ status across several practice areas, including our CRM practice and our Proforma Tracker software. But there was some feedback for areas where we need to improve. Interestingly, two clients that differ in their scoring – one was a promoter and one was passive – both said the same thing. What they said wasn’t a surprise to us. It’s in the back of your mind. But it isn’t until people you trust and respect say it that it really hits home. To achieve the growth we have projected, we need to listen and are incorporating the feedback into our process-improvement efforts.

Give your clients a platform, then listen

If you have a great personal relationship with a client, they may refrain from giving feedback that’s perceived as negative. That’s why it’s vital to give your clients a platform to tell you what’s really important to them.

But the critical part in all of this is that you have to commit to doing something about what you learn. The real challenge is to make cultural and process changes that ultimately engineer the issue out of your business. This begins with including client feedback in your regular performance measurement activities and elevating its importance and visibility firmwide – but in particular – to those at the front of your business development efforts. After all, rinsing and repeating what you do well to delight clients is one of the fastest paths to business growth. 

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