Client Experience: The Link Between Legal Counsel and Business Advisor

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Leaders of the corporate world have advanced their global organizations by leaps and bounds by ushering in the era of Client Experience. Client Experience is the regular practice of bringing the client’s voice to the table, and structuring operations and services that meet (or exceed) their expectations. Think of it as doing everything you can to anticipate and understand what your clients’ value, and then structuring your business accordingly to foster loyalty within your relationships.

If it sounds challenging, you’re right. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible.

Some companies operate solely from internal perspectives and potential tunnel-vision of leadership. Client Experience-evolved companies, however, discovered the one voice missing from the boardroom table: the client. Engaging in conversations and hearing directly from your clientele will help you not only meet but exceed expectations – and in turn take your firm to the next level of growth. In the past, it may not have been easy to gather information from clients. Today, however, feedback and input are readily accessible and attainable, and thus, the practice of Client Experience can more regularly play a role within the legal industry.

Multi-national global Fortune 500 companies hire Customer Experience Officers to help bring their client expectations to reality. In the law firm community, it is most often the legal marketing and business development representative or team that spearheads efforts to bring its clients’ voices to the table.

Curious how the process happens and can be realized at your firm? Read on.

Begin by implementing a consistent client feedback program. This can be as simple as having scheduled, honest conference calls with clients, led by a non-biased lawyer or a client development professional. The key is to use a standard set of non-leading questions that are used consistently so you are able to identify trends. Keep in mind that the feedback likely will be more candid and valuable if the clients speak with someone who is not their main contact. Semi-annual or even quarterly conversations are ideal depending on the volume and frequency of the clients’ needs.

Lawyers are naturally busy professionals and may not always be able to make time for client conversations. If this is the case for you, other great opportunities for input can also simply be attending general counsel panels or other outside-the-office events. Informal feedback channels are an important complement to more formalized conversations. Engaging in brief off-the-cuff discussions with clients in order to become familiar with their challenges and opportunities can be extremely informative and help to ingratiate your firm as a true and trusted business partner.

Once a routine for feedback has been established, seek out opportunities for your firm to act upon the knowledge acquired. You can, and should, take what you learn and apply it to all areas of your work. For instance, when participating in multi-group meetings that may also include recruiting, professional development, and marketing staff, you should willingly discuss and apply information gleaned from these client feedback discussions into all functions of the firm, including your strategic planning.

This kind of holistic thinking moves you even further down the process – from hearing the voice of the client to looking at your business through the lens of the client. Here you become more responsive to client needs and enter the realm of becoming business advisors in addition to legal counsel – another area where the legal marketing and business development team can be of service to lawyers. Legal marketers can bring their business skills to meetings by helping lawyers, whose primary role it is to go deep on the legal aspects of a client’s work, consider alternative ways of thinking and structuring processes that will mutually benefit all parties.

Here are five action steps to enhance your firm’s Client Experience:

  1. Provide skills training to all departments and employees who may have some occasional contact with clients such as administration, IT, and accounting. Remember, everyone plays a role in how a client experiences your firm.
  2. Invite marketing or business development staff into strategic planning meetings to add their perspectives on client needs. (Firms without marketing or business development professionals likely have a staff member with those skills. Invite them, encourage those skills and put them to use!)
  3. Initiate a client feedback program – start small if necessary to gain buy-in.
  4. Consider sending a marketing or business development team member (or a staff member) to a Client Experience conference.
  5. Reinforce to the entire firm that they should always put themselves in your clients’ shoes and make decisions from that perspective.

Perhaps more important than collecting client feedback is acting upon it. It’s important to address issues or “surprises” immediately. Handling feedback in a productive and proactive way also can help build stronger relationships with your clients – precisely the point of this strategic practice. Through smart and collaborative problem solving, you can edge closer to achieving trusted advisor status with your clients.

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