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Futures Week

The Future of Client Service

By Nathaniel Slavin

As always, this year’s Futures Conference featured a crowd of wonderful speakers with provocative ideas. The theme of the College of Law Practice Management’s 2016 program, “What will Law Look Like in 2026?” brought out some deeply interesting thoughts. We’ve asked four speakers to summarize their presentations for our readers. Today, client feedback consultant Nat Slavin comments on the future of client service.

I was recently challenged to explore what client service will look like in 2026. The good news is the conversation has already started, but the bad news is law firms have a long way to go. It is great that the idea of “client service” is authentically being explored within law firms, but what many lawyers think of as client service is really just table stakes. What is lost is that client service creates greater client loyalty and greater client loyalty yields more work, higher realization and stronger promoters. But firms only earn that loyalty when they demonstrate a deep understanding of their clients’ needs and expectations.

As one client said to me in an interview, “The reality is there are thousands of smart, capable lawyers at great firms. That is the point of entry, not why we select someone. We hire individuals that are best at the personal side of issues and never forget who the client is: me.”

Client service is always evolving, and we don’t know exactly what the future will hold for client service initiatives. But we know it will continue to come out of the loyalty that firms demonstrate with essentials like responsiveness, offering practical advice and not taking clients for granted.

The Challenges Right Now

Today, law firms are challenged by an inability and/or unwillingness to invest in the long term. Service standards get drafted, but formal training, workshops and multiyear plans with clearly articulated goals often don’t happen.

The problem is a lack of incentive: The legal profession is episodic and derivative, and law firms rarely act proactively (as I have heard in hundreds of client feedback interviews). Inertia, pressing client needs and the wide range of client relationships all hinder a firm’s ability to even find a starting place. And, most of all, there is a lack of any kind of economic incentive that would force more rapid investment in client service.

Investing in the Future

So how do you start investing in the future? Some firms are advancing client service and taking actions like:

  • Using the Net Promoter Score (NPS) as a baseline in assessing existing relationships.
  • Conducting “one size fits one” training for select practice groups, attorneys, industry groups and/or offices.
  • Looking at other industries for ideas (not just the hospitality industry).
  • Involving the voice of the client.
  • Adapting at the pace of the client and not the pace of the firm.
  • Identifying clear return on investment (ROI).
  • Customer Journey Mapping/Client Experience Mapping.
  • Tying compensation to feedback on service.
  • Aligning the firm’s work with the goals of the professionals at the client.

All of these actions demonstrate an investment in the client without keeping score — and that earns the client’s loyalty.

How to Offer Excellent Client Service

While a client service initiative can be a major investment for a firm, there are smaller things any lawyer can keep in mind to enhance client service:

  • Underpromise and overdeliver.
  • Don’t assume: Ask your clients how you are doing.
  • Find out what your clients value most and offer that.
  • Differentiate by meeting the needs of individual clients, even within one client company.
  • Always be prepared for any client interaction.

We can’t predict all of the changes that will occur in client service over the next 10 years. More than likely, your clients will create inventive ways to offer their clients great service, and you’ll be able to learn from them. But we know the fundamentals of great client service, and those won’t ever change.

Nathaniel Slavin is a partner in the Wicker Park Group, an international consultancy focused on helping law firms strengthen and deepen their relationships with in-house counsel through client feedback and other client facing programs. Previously, Nat was the publisher of InsideCounsel (Corporate Legal Times), the management monthly for corporate legal executives. He was inducted into the LMA Hall of Fame in 2014 and is a Fellow of the College of Law Practice Management.

Attorney at Work is a sponsor of the College of Law Practice Management Futures Conference and InnovAction Awards.

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