Putting clients at the heart of your firm
This year’s PM Forum conference in London tackled the perennial issue of helping firms
to become truly client-centric and the balance needed between systems and spirit.
Client care is a subject dear to the
hearts of marketers and partners
alike judging by the
maximum turnout this year.
Laurie Young opened by reminding us of the
home truths about the service experience
we give our clients and what they consider
to be the critical components of professional
The results of the Harte & Dale survey
reveal answers that have been consistent for
some time (fees are not one of the three
most important factors to clients) and
Laurie underlined the point that nobody has
ever bought on price alone. Differentiation is
vital, particularly in an over-crowded market
place, and put simply, that means creating a
different experience for the client.
There have been many scientific studies
into how the relationships between a firm
and its clients work and ultimately it
depends on the behaviour of every person
within that firm and the client.What is
acceptable, desired and unacceptable is
governed by the culture of the firm, with the
leadership setting the tone. How we treat
our people will be reflected in how our
people treat our clients.
David Pester of TLT talks to his firm’s key
clients regularly. He gave a very open and
honest account of how he believes great
fee-earners inspire clients. One of the
greatest skills is the ability to recognise what
clients are telling you; then listening and
responding to it.
He also reiterated that regardless of what
happens post Clementi, clients will always
want all the other aspects of service before
they consider price. In his interviews with
clients, the issues that were raised were all
about the individuals on the client team,
revealing human issues like a lack of teamwork
and how it was having a negative
impact on the experience for the client.
A driver for the current trend of organisations
taking the legal work in-house was that
it was easier to control.The lesson for all
private practices is that we need to get
better at transparency.
He said that TLT had an advantage in that
it had been a greenfield site, however he
said that resistance was the usual reaction
but that if firms wanted to survive, let alone
succeed, it was vital they embraced the idea
of proactive relationship management.That
begins by getting an honest assessment of
the current performance and for that we
need to talk about the experience of
working with us. Having conversations with
clients about their perceptions is fundamental
and if partner assessment doesn’t
focus on the skills and behaviours required,
then there’s something wrong.
He admitted that there were barriers –
particularly complacency in this recent
period of success for the legal sector, but
again emphasised that there were great
prizes for those who could manage the insecurities
that the idea of talking to clients
tends to bring to the surface. He also
mentioned leadership and the need to “stop
obsessing about golf days and spend time
talking to clients about service instead”.
Recognising success is important but not
just with the partners; the clients love to be
told that positive feedback from them has been
recognised internally. Looking to the future, he
considered the impact that an aggressively
regulated environment will have on client
service. In conclusion, risk management and
quality assurance are important but must
never be to the detriment of the client.“It’s
all about service” as evidenced by TLT’s
impressive growth which is all based on
expanding services to existing clients.The
CRM Programmes – Jane Lax of Wragge &
Co and Darryl Cross of LexisNexis
Interaction (pictured below) looked at how
technology could improve the quality and
efficiency of a CRM programme as well as
some useful tips on what constitutes good
CRM to the client.
It was no surprise to learn that when
managing key clients, small is beautiful
(though a quick straw poll indicated many
firms didn’t always pursue this mantra).We
also discussed the importance of having a
programme with SMART objectives – if you
can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.
We were reminded not to collect data
for data’s sake – all data collected should be
allied to your objectives.We also discussed
the different business parlance sometimes
used by fee-earners and marketers – and
how this divide might be bridged.
The concluding points were to use
technology to help you; focus your efforts
on the right clients; and ask if you are
unsure – as each client is different and should
be treated so.
Integrating client care into management –
Whilst most firms profess to provide superior client care,
we needed an honest look at whether there
was a gap between the rhetoric and the
reality of what was really measured and
rewarded.This was provided by Abby
Ghobadian of Brunel Business School and
Martin Powell of Withy King.
Again and again we heard the message
that the vision has to come from the top
and the importance of having a united
commitment to the need for change.The
importance of getting the service aspect
right before the market opens up was also
highlighted.We need to protect ourselves
from client defections as more client
focused brands enter the market.
Measuring client satisfaction, key account
planning and the need for coaching were all
discussed and an interesting debate was had
about fees and how negative it was to
compete on price, as well as the impact of
electronic auctions.The conclusion was that
successful businesses are those that can
reinvent themselves in response to what the
market wants, even before it’s required.
The other workshops that could have
been chosen in the morning were Gathering
client intelligence and Key account
programmes and service agreements.
MAKING A DIFFERENCE
Georgina Noakes took us up to lunch with
the stepping stones to making a difference
and emphasised the importance of being
able to have a conversation with your
clients. As well as some thought provoking
poetry and concepts, we were left with a
strong message about the need to have
solid foundations of trust and courage to
inspire our firms to adapt their behaviour.
Nothing happens if you don’t talk.
After lunch Alison Spence of Advent
International took us through the case study
of establishing the Advent name in the UK
through a communications and brandbuilding
campaign and concluded that
however successful a marketing communications
initiative is, it’s never a substitute for
focused activity on prospects.
Psychology of client care – A very popular
session, led by Charles Sutton, which again
picked up on the dynamics of the multiple
contacts that a client has with a firm.
Research has shown that in first encounters
with clients, 67% of lawyers never described
the firm but instead spent the meeting
talking about themselves, which obviously
shapes the perception in the client’s mind!
Perceptions need to change and something
dramatically different and note-worthy
to reshape thinking is needed.The importance
of the story-teller was underlined in
terms of creating and changing perceptions.
We also explored how violations can occur
when thought hasn’t been given to the
aspects that remain unsaid.
Best practice in a single office firm –
Suzanne Godbehere of Cassels Brock and
Tim Hill of Taylor Vinters recapped on the
importance of business planning as well as
discussing the use of online event surveys
(including one which resulted in a 25%
increase in response rates over paper).The
proliferation of the web as a business development
tool was also discussed, with the
group discussing ‘must haves’ (on-line media
kits) and ‘nice to haves’ (site personalisation).
We also discussed measuring your referral
currency, including useful tips on how to
capture this management information.
Knowledge management and the use of
training to inspire and engage were also
In addition to these two workshops delegates
were also able to chosen sessions on
either multi-office or large firms.
ROLE OF THE CLIENT PARTNER
The conference concluded with a presentation
on the role of the client relationship
partner by Tim Nightingale of Nisus
Consulting by reference to feedback directly
from the horses’ mouths garnered from this
year’s survey of general counsel and what
they look for in external advisers.
He highlighted the human aspects of relationship
handling and, for example, the
harm that treading on relationships can do,
ie. client relationship partners attempting to
cement relationships with others in the
organisation but with the result of making
the in-house counsel consider that they
have ‘gone behind their back’.This came up
surprisingly often. As ever, he made the
points come alive with quotes and anecdotes
from the clients and judging by the
laughter in the audience, had hit a lot of
nerves with observations about clients who
may not know who their client relationship
partner is, but more worryingly, partners
who may not have appreciated it was them!
Joining Tim was Helena Samaha, partner
at DLA Piper and previously Group Legal
Director at Virgin Management, who was
able to give us the benefit of both sides of
the fence. Helena emphasised that not
everyone has the same emotional intelligence
or skills but that the role of a partner
should be in managing the relationships and
that those fee-earners who may be excellent
at the technical advice, should be
rewarded in a way that didn’t necessitate
being made up to partner.
As ever the day concluded with more
useful networking over a glass of wine and
then back to ponder the lessons of the day.
Catriona Russell and Nick Moore of Farrer &