Since 1995, each April I have received a birthday card from a particular Indian restaurant in LA. I shall spare the details, other than to say in 1995 I was there with a party of about 120 Brits, and we booked the entire restaurant for an evening and pretty much drank it dry. In a city where (at the time at least) curry was not massively popular, and with me being the credit card bearer for the entire group, I suddenly became an incredibly important client to the restaurant owner.

law firm customer experience happy birthday

Unfortunately, despite this incredibly diligent approach to CRM, his devoted hand-writing of the card and airmail posting of it rather than the cheap and easy e-mail option, it is never going to produce any additional revenue for him. Why? Because he’s missed a couple of fundamental points.

First, a curry in LA is not a regular purchase of mine. I might wish it was, but the local Hammersmith Deliveroo is somewhat easier on a Friday night.

Second, if I were to be lucky enough to find myself in LA again on a Friday night, unless this happened to be within a short period of time of receiving my annual card I would have no name recollection whatsoever; sadly, due to its non-relevance, the card goes straight in the bin each year. Instead I would ask for recommendations from those who most likely would give current advice, either a hotel concierge or friends/colleagues based in the locale.

A CRM based approach for a service I use infrequently is irrelevant.

Contrast my ‘once in every decade’ meal out to that of, say, my mobile phone. This is a contract that’s up for renewal every 18 months or two years. It’s a device I rely on, on a daily basis. I have regular contact with the provider via monthly bills.

My experience with the provider determines the likelihood of me renewing my contract with them, or shopping around. But what do I mean by ‘experience’? Is it how many marketing e-mails or customer satisfaction surveys hit my inbox? Yes, that’s part of it but not in the way they think. Now I accept that everyone’s mileage is different, but I mentally mark down suppliers who deluge me with e-mails I don’t want. The experience I’m measuring is simple and can be summed up in one word. ‘Outcome’. I chose the phone/provider based on who I think will combine the best price with the most reliable service. It’s that simple. And I have a daily reminder of how my provider is performing with regard to service reliability and a monthly reminder as to how they are performing with regards to their bills. When it comes to renewal I have current and objective ‘outcome based choices’.

What do these two examples teach us about the application of CRM/Customer Experience (CX) within law firms?

Private clients, I would argue, fall into the same category as my LA curry house. To most private clients, the use of a law firm is a very occasional thing: A house purchase (what’s the current average tenure, it used to be seven years?). Probate? Divorce? Will writing? Now there may be a chance to cross-sell more effectively (for example at the time of house purchase or divorce, check that wills are still suitable), but regardless of any amount of in-between marketing, e-mailing, etc. a private client can’t just invent work for a law firm. And just as my LA curry house has no name recognition because it’s so long since I’ve been, one questions whether law firms have any better name retention for the average occasional client? I would suggest that private clients are more likely to select a law firm based on third party professional advice (e.g. the funeral parlour, estate agent, etc.) or friends who have recently used similar services.

Corporate clients on the other hand are more akin to my mobile phone provider. They place regular and repeat business with their law firms. They have lots of market choices. And they have very measurable outcomes. They want the best result for their clients and they want a good price. The best results will vary client by client but will undoubtedly include predictability, visibility, MIS reporting, win/lose outcome, cycle times and so on. With regards to price, they will expect competitiveness with budgetary accuracy.

law firm clients care about outcomes

When corporate clients have their panel reviews these will be the primary decision points, rather than the softer aspects of the relationship. Does this mean that CRM based systems designed to focus on ‘knowing your client’ are bad things? Clearly not; client service is, and always has been, vital. Reputations of poor service can be damaging and difficult to repair. But when you look in detail at what dissatisfied clients mean by ‘bad service’ it’s generally either outcome based (“we didn’t win the case/receive as much as we thought”, “the house purchase took much longer than we expected”, “our SLAs were repeatedly broken”) or price focussed (“we had no idea the fees would be that much”, “we were quoted one figure and the bill came in at twice that price”).

So the best way to become a customer experience focussed firm is to find a repeatable way to deliver outcomes your clients want and at a price point they expect. Aligning your technology to these fundamental drivers will produce nothing but positive results for the firm.

About David Thorpe

David is the Business Development Director at slicedbread and has over 35 years’ experience in the legal software industry. Having worked at Thomson Reuters, Aderant, Peppermint Technology and now slicedbread, David is unrivalled when it comes to breadth of industry knowledge.