Apple does something amazing. Of course, they do a lot of amazing things as they weave their technology into our personal and professional DNA, but they’ve nailed one thing for sure: the services side of their products.
Just walk into an Apple Store and you’ll see how they’ve taken a product and made it so much more. Although they’re simply selling you beautiful gadgets, they’ve done a masterful job of transforming a product purchase into an experience that builds a relationship around their products and other things they do so well — the services and experience.
Why? Because they know that a customer-oriented, service-driven culture is what turns a product buyer into a lifelong brand advocate.
As a legal professional, you are not selling a product. There is no feature-functionality comparison between lawyers or firms (as interesting as that would be), and there is no instruction manual, no batteries and nothing to break. As a legal professional, you’re selling your time and attention, expertise, credentials and reputation — your “services.” Marketing a service is obviously different from marketing a product, because by offering a service, you are continually striving to serve the complex, dynamic and always-moving target — your client.
Product vs. Service: The Intangibility of an Interaction
The real differentiating factor between a product and a service is that a service is both purchased and consumed simultaneously, or close to it. This means that the value of your legal service (if you intend to stay in business) is realized when the service is delivered consistently to your clients — consistency being the key ingredient.
When you’re interacting with a client for the first time, he or she may have a certain expectation of how the interaction, case or matter will go. If all goes well, the client is happy and continues paying for your time. However, when your clients return for another engagement, they will expect the same experience or better. If you’re off your game and don’t deliver a service that meets or exceeds their expectations, you will have damaged the relationship by not delivering something consistent and predictable. Oftentimes it’s this gradual “service erosion” effect of not meeting or exceeding clients’ expectations that causes clients to take their business elsewhere.
Use Technology to Standardize and Differentiate
Just as Apple creates an intangible experience at their stores to foster ongoing relationships and interaction, you can differentiate your service by offering something tangible: technology. This deepens the relationship with your clients, as they’re now associating your service with something a bit more substantial, adding an extra element to what you offer. The rule is:
If you sell a product, focus on the intangible aspects, and if you sell a service, make it as tangible as possible.
By emphasizing tangible characteristics that aren’t obvious when delivering a service, your practice will stand out and your clients will notice.
The most obvious areas for enhancing your service with technology would be through your internal data organization, and your client collaboration and communication tools.
Practice management and document management solutions will help you keep your unique clients’ details in order, as well as keep their matters in a consistent format for quick data entry and retrieval.
Collaboration tools and email management will help capture relevant communications, as well as provide the mechanism to work together with clients, securely sharing content and having discussions behind digital firewalls.
By leveraging technology to organize data and interact with your clients, you will deepen the relationship “hooks” into your service. And all good service providers know that without value-hooks in the relationship, they could be one mistake away from losing a client’s business.
Is This About Client Relationship Management or Marketing Your Practice?
In a services economy, delivering a highly valuable and consistent service to your client base and marketing your practice to attract new clients are nearly identical. Pervasive social technology and the interconnectedness of everyone, all the time, is breaking down traditional advertising and marketing structures, replacing them with technology-enabled people. Yes, you heard me. People — your clients — will be your No. 1 lead-generation tool for new opportunities and building your client base.
You’ve heard the term “referral marketing,” and have probably been offered something for free if you’d simply pass a recommendation onto a colleague. That’s not what I’m talking about. In the professional services arena of B2B and B2C legal services, you’re not going to have much luck with gimmicks. Instead, spend your marketing dollars focusing on your existing client base. When you increase the value your clients get from interacting with your practice, the ROI will come.
Some call this increasing “the customer delight” index, and have come up with creative ways to surprise their clients by going the extra mile, knowing that their clients are their most powerful marketing and business development tool. This approach to client management and marketing helps you convert your clients into advocates of your service and, yes, whether you do it right or wrong, you can be sure they’ll tell people about it.
Focus your strategy around the standardization, personalization and use of technology to manage your clients and you will improve their experience, sink the value-hooks deeper into the relationship, and turn your passive client base into vocal advocates for your practice.
Marriott Murdock is Marketing Director at NetDocuments, a leading cloud-based document and email management service provider. He has been with NetDocuments since 2006, managing NetDocuments’ U.S., U.K. and Australian marketing and business development initiatives in the global Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) market. Marriott received his MBA in brand management from Thunderbird School of Global Management and is a certified Project Management Professional (PMP) through the Project Management Institute (PMI). Follow him on Twitter @MarriottMurdock.
NetDocuments is the leading cloud-computing document management, email management and collaboration service. View the latest developments and demonstrations at www.netdocuments.com.