“Customer service is the new marketing, it’s what differentiates one business from another.”
– Jay Baer, Author
Every legal marketer will tell you that they have two sets of clients – internal lawyers as well as the firm’s clients. For those of us working at larger firms, at any given time, our clients can also include Human Resources, IT, Knowledge Management, Finance, and so on. Similar to lawyers with demanding clients, legal marketers cannot predict the requests that will come in on any given day. But after a few years in these roles, many tend to master how best to service their internal clients and quickly become the best resource to train and coach lawyers on the topic.
What’s more, lawyers have never had better technology at their disposal, law firms have never been more focused on market differentiation, and continuous improvement has become a strategic priority. For these reasons, lawyers are well suited to work with legal marketing professionals to enhance their client service techniques or design a client service program that can produce positive results.
Here are four strategies to enhance your service offering (from a self-proclaimed champion of client service).
Build trust from the outset – Trust comes over time and in most cases after multiple demonstrations of skill and expertise. But, before the real work starts, you can build a strong foundation. In my interactions with lawyers, I strive to be personal and curious. I ask questions about their practice, clients, and the challenges that they face. If I don’t understand something, I don’t guess, I clarify or I take it away and educate myself. Showing enthusiasm and presenting a positive attitude also goes a long way.
Strive for clear and concise communications – I work with litigators so I have been (rightly) programmed to employ ‘point first advocacy’ in my communications. That means I do not bury the lead; I report the news or the action up front and then let my reader decide whether they want or need additional details. This format forces me to simplify my ideas and only let the important information through. With hundreds of emails being delivered to inboxes each day, breaking through the noise with clear and concise communications can mean the difference between a quick response or a disastrous delay.
Manage response times to manage expectations – Over the past decade, through client surveys and interviews, the most common piece of constructive feedback reported has to do with responsiveness. Clients want prompt responses from their lawyers, consistently. As someone who balances dozens of projects at the same time and does an informal intake at the outset (sound familiar?), I have learned that agreeing on response times and format is a step that cannot be skipped. Once expectations are set, finding the best way to organize yourself is key. I tend to manage emails in real-time and I deal with overage at the end of the day. I offer 15-minute meetings so I can avoid an endless email exchange. I use instant messaging tools to provide status updates if that is what works best for the client. The bottom line is great client service means using every trick in the book to maintain a high degree of contact and communication. It’s exhausting but manageable.
Exceed expectations by applying effort – The greatest compliment I could receive are the following two words: no changes. This happens when you know your clients well, you understand their needs, you have adjusted to their styles and preferences, you are thinking deeply about the subject matter, and you present ideas in the most compelling way. A requirement for success is effort, period.
We all know that better service leads to happier clients which can result in more work in the door. There are so many elements to good client service and the power of it all should not be underestimated. Given the nature of our roles, legal marketers become subject matter experts and lawyers should be encouraged to take full advantage of that skill set.