We are living through exceptional times and law firms are having to adapt to a fast-paced and ever-changing landscape – particularly when it comes to client care in the Covid-19 era.
One of the myriad of changes they are facing is in regard to the client relationship. The realities of lockdown and homeworking have created a new set of legal client wants and needs which in turn demand something new of client care. Quite simply the importance of accessibility and authenticity have been thrust into the spotlight and law firms must find ways to respond.
A Changing Landscape
Even before Covid-19 the sector was undergoing change. Legal clients were becoming less loyal and more price sensitive as well as more expectant of 247 support. Add this to a highly competitive market where the arrival of AI is being felt and the war for talent is at play, and there is no denying that the sector faces many challenges. Keeping clients close and happy is a business critical priority.
Changing expectations in the consumer market have impacted the legal sector hugely too. As big consumer brands offer a multi-channel presence, provide 247 customer care and position themselves as affable, accessible businesses – the same expectation eventually inveigles the professional services sector.
Covid-19 has amplified these changes and added more into the mix – making the need for exemplary client care even greater. In times of crisis we turn to the businesses we trust. Those that respond with empathy and genuine concern, will thrive. Those that fail to adapt or show they care will pay the price; lost revenue and market share.
Lockdown Changed Legal Client Behaviors
During lockdown, prolonged periods of isolation meant that legal clients craved more human contact– this was evident through longer call durations as clients sought greater reassurance and sated the need for personal connection.
It also saw legal clients share more about their personal lives – the desire to talk and feel connected led to a willingness to share additional details when making inquiries, particularly over the phone and in live chat conversations. It reinvigorated a need for clients to be heard.
Similarly, there was an increase in out of hours activity too – the realities of working from home and juggling childcare meant that many legal clients required access to help and guidance outside traditional office hours. With law firms’ employees facing the same challenges themselves, this heighted the sector’s acceptance that 9-5 accessibility is business limiting and does not reflect the modern digital age.
How can firms exceed expectations?
No. 1: Show you understand and know your clients
The importance of genuine client understanding is often overlooked; law firms must really know their clients in order to exceed client care expectations. This means viewing them as real people, rather than segments in a marketing plan, and considering the entirety of the client journey, from prospect to long-standing client.
The Clio 2019 Legal Trends Report reiterates the individuality of clients and that they are not a homogenous group – different generations have different needs. The report said: “Younger generations are more likely to care about a lawyer’s website (49% of Gen Z and 48% of Millennials compared to 34% of Gen X and 21% of Boomers).” And that “Younger generations are more likely to care about a firm’s online reviews (46% of Gen Z and 53% of Millennials compared to 39% of Gen X and 25% of Boomers).”
49% of Gen Z are likely to care about a lawyer’s website compared to 21% of Boomers. 53% of Millennials are likely to care about online reviews compared to just 25% of Boomers.”
This need for understanding and authenticity is not particularly new, but Covid has highlighted its importance and changed the narrative. Firms that merely sell their products and services during the pandemic are taking a short-sighted approach. Law firms must show they have empathy. That means communicating proactively and taking the conversation beyond the legal services for sale to help clients in their time of need and forge genuine relationships.
Some of the best examples during lockdown have included the creation of content-rich information portals full of free advice and guidance, the set-up of dedicated helplines and the creation of coronavirus task forces comprising of lawyers from multiple practice areas.
No. 2: Be accessible 24/7, prompt and human
In a multi-channel age, clients might choose to contact firms through web forms, live chat, social media channel or simply telephoning the office, attorney or support staff directly. Whichever it is, the expectation is for a prompt response.
The American Bar Association knows this only too well. Its insights show that 42% of the time, law firms take three or more days to reply to a voicemail or web-generated form fill from a prospective client. One out of every three callers doesn’t get to actually speak to a person and 3% of callers gave up before the phone was even answered.
Our own research shows that 84% of firms receive more inquiries out of office hours than 5 years ago, but that delays cost new business. The key is capturing and converting out of hours inquiries as if they were in-hours. Law firms must have the tools to do this at any time of day or night. While it’s not possible for attorneys to be available 247, it is possible for enquiries and messages to always be taken by an individual rather than left to voicemail.
Accessibility is a fundamental part of building trust and rapport that can counter client churn. According to the 2019 Legal Buyer Benchmark Study, 76% of law firm clients would be willing to work with a different firm if it were recommended by someone in their network. It’s clear that even happy clients might take their business elsewhere!
No. 3: Actively listen
Understanding clients’ needs requires active listening. This is how firms achieve the loyalty that so many report to be lacking.
Analysis of how and when people engage with a business, as well as the information they share and how they share it, should inform overall strategy, aid product and service development and influence spending decisions. Most law firms have vast amounts of data – the question is whether they’re using it properly. Client survey data, phone call recordings, focus groups, Net Promoter Scores (NPS), online reviews (Yelp, Avvo etc) and monitoring live chat transcripts for key words, can all be used to identify and understand expectations.
As well as listening to clients, legal leadership and management teams must also listen to employees. Those on the front line of service usually have the deepest understanding of what makes clients’ tick. Working together, law firms can reap the rewards of their insights and recognize where there is room for improvement.
No. 4: Keep innovating
Continued innovation is part of exceeding client care. Law firms must consider how new online tools, outsourced support and wider investment in software and hardware can drive improvements to the client journey – from handling initial inquiries through to providing case updates and generating bills.
The sector is responding to this and investment in legal tech set an all-time high—up an astonishing 713% in 2018 according to Forbes. The experience of Covid will likely drive this change even further, as decision-makers realise that technology is essential to the agility that has kept them operational.
Global researchers McKinsey sums this up perfectly in their recent article on adapting customer experience in the time of coronavirus. They said “Meet your clients where they are. Innovate digital models to help clients weather the crisis safely from home.”
No. 5: Look after your own people
A commitment to client care must be a firm wide priority and evident in every decision and interaction. It is not just the domain of marketing or reception staff. It includes how attorneys and their teams make clients feel, which is often determined by how they feel about your firm. If they feel supported and valued, they will pass that to their clients. Put simply, you can’t expect employees to put clients first if they don’t feel valued themselves.
Client care often falls under the remit of marketing – yet marketing is a function that is often under resourced and left to already-busy attorneys to pursue. As they concentrate on fee earning and the practice of law, there is a real danger that client care will receive little focus, let alone be improved. Our own research has shown that fewer than 1% of firms have enough people and processes in place to ensure they rarely miss a new inquiry.
Covid-19 has reminded everyone, the world over, of the importance of human connection. As such, law firms have an opportunity to act now and be remembered for their efforts – all by improving how they make clients feel and actively listening to their needs. This will create confidence, trust and value at a time when it’s needed most. This is how to build the foundations for exceptional client care , even in the midst of a pandemic.