Outstanding Customer Experience Is Essential for Client Loyalty
Providing exceptional and consistent client service is critical to your firm’s success, but to earn long-term trust and loyalty from clients, you will have to deliver an exceptional customer experience (CX).
Susan Saltonstall Duncan
Founder RainMaking Oasis
Client service focuses on the various interactions that clients have with you and your firm. It’s the way in which clients’ needs are met through the delivery of professional, helpful and effective service during client matters or engagements. Many firms tout exceptional client service among their distinguishing attributes, but clients are more interested in the customer experience.
So what is the customer experience, then? It’s more than client service and more than the various touchpoints and tangible interactions clients have with your firm. It encompasses the intangible aspects that your services create ― how your clients feel about your firm and your brand, the promises you make and whether you deliver on them.
Law firm clients will evaluate their satisfaction and loyalty based on the overall experience — the cumulative experiences they have over multiple touchpoints over time.
When it comes to implementing a customer experience review process, firms will have to be truly committed to creating a customer-first/superior CX corporate attitude. This will require top leadership support, as it will take time and resources and likely will result in changes to policies and normative behaviors within the firm and an openness to constructive criticism and continuous improvement. Institute formal and ongoing feedback mechanisms internally and externally to fully capture from the clients’ perspective what you do, how you do it and how it makes them feel.
MAP THE CLIENT JOURNEY
The first step is to map out the journeys that clients take over the lifetime of a matter or engagement, and hopefully over a long-term relationship. Firms must identify — through the eyes of their clients — where the critical junctures are and what the pain points or areas of improvement are.
Effective journey mapping requires an organization to look at all touchpoints and operational aspects of engaging with and getting work done on behalf of a client. This is particularly difficult to do in law firms, as they so often operate in silos that not only challenge and jeopardize service consistency but also create disconnects between all the critical touchpoints on a client journey.
“Law firm clients will evaluate their satisfaction and loyalty based on the overall customer experience — the cumulative experiences they have over multiple touchpoints over time.”
Even within the lawyer ranks, partners often act independently of one another and don’t always communicate effectively with other partners and lawyers on the team. And then there are the paralegals, contract attorneys and support and operations professionals.
Don’t forget about all the other client-facing support personnel that clients often interact with: lobby security staff, receptionist, conference/meeting setup attendants and administrative assistants. Clients are also touched by billing and collections personnel, IT staff and e-discovery and legal research professionals.
There are essentially five key steps required to connect the mapping of the client experience to embedding positive changes into current processes and actions.
Step 1: Organize. Many firms will establish a cross-functional leadership team that drives the overall client experience initiative. Some firms now have an executive devoted to client service or a chief client officer.
Step 2: Educate. After mapping out the client journey, there may be a number of broad strategic themes that are either emblematic of the experience your clients are having or representative of the type of experience that you wish clients to have. Share both the learnings from the client journey mapping and the broader thematic issues with the entire firm. Whether this is communicated through a multi-office videoconference, a firm newsletter or a series of emails, the critical piece of this step is to instill that this is an important issue to the firm and firm leadership.
Step 3: Enable. Once the firm’s vision and expectations for providing a superior customer experience have been articulated, all partners and employees should be encouraged to innovate on continuous improvement of the customer experience. Depending on the size of the firm, this may entail developing multiple channels (e.g., suggestion boxes) through which anyone — regardless of whether they are asked/appointed to a smaller team — can contribute to the initiative.
Ultimately, you will want to have smaller dedicated teams tasked with and engaged in identifying challenges and solutions, as well as driving activation — the act of bringing the changes to life through implementation.
Step 4: Implement. One of the hardest steps in any process is to put plans into action. Make sure you have plans and systems in in place for coordination, accountability, sharing and monitoring.
Step 5: Embed, Measure and Refresh. CX attributes and actions should be built into employee performance evaluations and measured according to the key elements of the customer journey that your journey mapping has identified as critical touchpoints. Prepare and review metrics, measurement schedules and reports on at least a quarterly basis.
The firm must gather formal and ongoing feedback through internal surveys and focus, external client interviews, and end-of-matter and other surveys. Finally, reinforce the vision and values that delivering superior customer experience requires through training and development of all employees, measurement of performance against expectations, and recognizing and rewarding those who innovate and deliver an outstanding end-to-end customer experience.
To get more tips on improving the customer experience, ALA members can receive 20% off the author’s book, Building Enduring Client Loyalty: A Guide for Lawyers and Their Firms. Visit this link and enter ALAmembers on the checkout page to secure your discount.
About the Author
Susan Saltonstall Duncan is author of Building Enduring Client Loyalty: A Guide for Lawyers and Their Firms. As Founder of RainMaking Oasis, she has provided management consulting and coaching services to lawyers and law firms for more than 35 years. She consults on client development, feedback and needs assessment interviews, firm and practice/sector strategy, business development, succession planning, lateral integration strategies, firm values, visions and culture and innovation. Duncan previously served in in-house roles including Director of Professional Development, Director of Business Development and as Chief Strategy Officer for a Global 25 law firm. She was inducted as a Fellow in the College of Law Practice Management (COLPM) and into the Legal Marketing Association’s Hall of Fame.