A law firm’s most precious assets are its clients, which are the source of both today’s business and tomorrow’s referrals. It’s never been more important than right now to integrate the voice of their clients into all you do. Unfortunately, many law firms still haven’t adopted a client-centric mindset as they engage with their clients and prospects, which often leads to what I call lots of random acts of marketing. There’s nothing worse than bombarding your clients with lots of non-focused content.
The fundamental and critical elements of business development success include forming strong online and in-person relationships, and providing exceptional client service at all times.
Since in-person networking is on pause for now, online networking is the most important tool we have.
It’s never been more important to be client-focused as it is right now as we face this global pandemic, which is affecting everyone around the globe.
Here are nine ways to adopt a more client-centric mindset at your firm.
- Add value – Identify ways in which you and your firm can add value to a client/contact and solve issues they have or better yet, will have. Establish internal client teams and regularly meet to talk about their matters, staffing and anticipation of future issues. This type of dedicated and proactive client service will enable your firm to be an exceptional legal service provider, and be viewed also as a trusted business advisor.
- Ask your clients for feedback – Many lawyers don’t open the door to feedback because they’re afraid of what they might hear. That’s a huge mistake. Asking clients how you’re doing and what you could do better (or more efficiently or differently) should be a given. How else will you know for sure that you are hitting the mark in client service? Implement a formal and informal client feedback program, and train your lawyers to ask clients the right questions at every step of the lifecycle of a matter.Perhaps even worse than not asking for feedback is not taking action when you receive it. You must act on it. Your goal is to become a client-centric law firm that not only collects client feedback but takes uses it to take prompt and effective action that can enhance the customer journey. So, ask away.
- Become a true business partner – When buyers of legal services discuss what they value most in their outside counsel, the desire for trust, predictability, truly understanding their business, being proactive and cost sensitive come up time and time again. The golden rule of customer service is always to treat your clients as you would want to be treated. I would add that it is very important to make each of your clients feel as if they are your only client. None of these concepts are rocket science, but rather client-service basics that often fall by the wayside when we are busy. Your number one job at all times is to consistently over-deliver in these areas, particularly right now when everyone is stressed and on edge.
- Know your client’s business inside and out – Stay attuned to major developments and news affecting your clients. It will enable you to better anticipate their needs and be a smarter legal solution provider. Take the time to do in-depth marketing due diligence/CI on a few VIP clients as well as prospects. Learn their businesses inside and out. What challenges and opportunities are they facing? How can you help them with these? Sometimes all you need to do is ask them.Also, set up Google Alerts on your clients and prospects (which are free) – this will provide valuable information and give you reasons to reach out to them to congratulate them on a success or milestone, or send an article that touches on a legal issue they might be facing. Use this intelligence to reach out to those individuals in your network who you’ve been meaning to contact. Such timely touchpoints enable you to stay top of mind with important connections. Don’t let your clients/prospects forget you.
- Cultivate your network every day – More than 90% of those making hiring decisions draw on information from people they know. Think about what that says about the importance of your professional networks in the referral process. Also, in-house counsel regularly hire outside counsel whom they know and trust – from law school, a prior firm, a friend of a friend, or a past matter. Why shouldn’t you receive these referrals? Nurturing relationships is vital to business development success. Keep in touch with former colleagues, past clients, alumni from law school and undergraduate schools.Today you can easily build these relationships using online networking (LinkedIn being the place where professionals convene and interact). People want to connect with others especially right now. It’s perfectly okay to reach out to someone with whom you haven’t been in touch in many years. The pandemic is a great reason to reestablish contact.Also, don’t underestimate the importance of every connection. Each person you meet is potentially someone who is in or will be in a position to help you down the line as a prospective employer, employee, referral, reference, source of business or even your opponents. I have seen several instances where lawyers have gotten new clients based on the way they handled themselves during a heated negotiation. In essence, the client said, I want that person on my side the next time I have an issue. So, be fair, helpful and kind to everyone. Because you never know.
- Pivot your networking – The days of taking a client out for lunch, a drink or a sports event are over for now and we don’t know when they will return and what that will look like. Right now and for the foreseeable future, you’ll need to interact with clients virtually, ideally through touchpoints that enable law firms and lawyers to demonstrate how they provide value to clients – which offers an opportunity to showcase your capabilities.This type of reputational marketing often has a stronger impact than any concert or fancy dinner anyway, so offer a CLE or web briefing and send a relevant article with a note about why they should care about a development. Even better, co-author an article with them or invite them to speak on a webinar with you. Invest in your clients in a way that provides something of value to them.
- Show vs. tell – What communications resonate most with clients? Tailored, value-added and easily digestible client alerts and newsletters with engaging and to-the-point subject lines (from the law firms they actually use). Ensure that these communications are client-focused – and they show versus tell. Demonstrate your legal expertise and unique value proposition. These “light touches” keep your firm top of mind with your professional contacts and can often lead to new business, or at the very least, help you elevate your brand. One word of caution – if you are going to be sending many alerts per day on COVID-19 related topics, it may be wise to send one daily digest that includes all of the alerts from that day, and do the same with your social posts. You don’t want to spam your contacts with too much content – I fear we are reaching is a content saturation point.
- Communicate strategically and thoughtfully – Another important note on content – the information you send to clients and prospects should be sent strategically and sparingly. Segment your mailing lists and analyze engagement and open rates. Many firms are taking a “random acts of content” approach to their strategy, which is a waste of time for everyone. Use the power offered by your email marketing software and social media analytics. Play the role of the client and think about what you would like to receive and how often if you were them. If you always put yourself in your clients’ shoes, you will always be on the right path.
- Don’t play the guessing game – Make sure your clients know exactly who is on their legal team at every stage of their matter. Provide multiple points of contact for clients and make it easy for them to get to know everyone on their team – from paralegals, to associates, to partners. Schedule Zoom check-in meetings so you have face to face contact.Client care is essential right now – consider create a handy reference guide for your clients, with photos, contact information and short bios of each person working on their matters. Include LinkedIn URLs of each person and their undergraduate and law school information – again, this approach will help to find commonalities and connection touchpoints. If appropriate, include a fun fact about each person as an ice breaker. Email this information to clients as a branded PDF. You’d be surprised how far something like this will go in showing the client just how much you value your relationship with them and how you strive to make their lives easier.
It’s never been more important to adopt a client-centric approach to everything you do as a law firm in this competitive and saturated market in the time of COVID-19.
The idea is to invest in your clients in a way that allows your firm and lawyers to showcase their knowledge and experience. Show empathy. Be helpful. Anticipate their needs. So going forward, follow through, put the client first and do what they ask you to do. That is key to delighting the client and building long-lasting attorney-client relationships.