By Jeff Unger
Every day at each of the Ritz-Carlton's 91 hotels worldwide, every guest can expect a warm, personalized greeting. Picture yourself checking in, walking down the hallway, or having a drink at the bar. You'll inevitably come across a friendly face that addresses you by name.
Now consider a common exchange as a legal services client. You call your lawyer and leave a message with the receptionist. The next day, your lawyer finally calls back and asks you to "refresh his memory" about your inquiry. So you repeat your question--apparently, a simple one he answers in three minutes flat.
The customer experience in legal services is often subpar. Despite the massive shifts in consumer expectations and technology, most law firms haven't kept up. Attorneys are pressured to get more work done in less time. Many are so busy that they lose sight of creating an exceptional client experience--an oversight that will ultimately drag their businesses down.
American law firms haven't experienced much growth in the last decade, according to The New York Times. They're feeling the squeeze from emerging competitors, including other professional services firms and legal tech startups.
The most successful law firms have strong, distinct brands, according to a report by Citi Private Bank and Hildebrandt Consulting. They're also highly productive and focused more on improving matter management than on controlling expenses.
Balancing these multiple goals in a fiercely competitive environment might seem like an overwhelming challenge, but it's not. My law firm, eMinutes, has made the Inc. 5000 list of fastest growing U.S. companies four years in a row. If you're wondering how I did it, my advice is simple:
- Prioritize client experience above all else.
- Invest in technology to help execute your vision.
TECHNOLOGY CREATES FREE TIME--USE IT!
By automating administrative tasks, law firms can free up valuable time that can be dedicated to elevating the client experience. Over the last 12 years, my firm has spent $3 million developing proprietary technology to service our clients better. Many tasks that once consumed a lot of time, effort and labor costs are now automated, freeing up our employees to handle more high-level work. For example, at eMinutes, we specialize in creating and maintaining business entities. As an added perk for our clients, we are able to review missing share certificates and prepare them at no charge. Extraordinary client experience is part of our brand, and our technology helps strengthen that brand every day.
SYSTEMATIZING FIRST-RATE CLIENT EXPERIENCE
You can help your clients in unexpected ways through systematized improvements in technology, staffing, company policies and more. The Ritz-Carlton calls them "systems behind the smiles"--which I recently learned at the Ritz-Carlton's customer service course.
Start by mapping out the client journey and study every step from the client's perspective. From there, you can anticipate 99 percent of the workflow based on your experience. That alone will improve your practice.
If you're willing to go further, you can delve deep into every step; anticipate every question your client might ask and every potential complication. From there, you can design improvements, plan for technology upgrades and implement new routines.
CASE STUDY: EMAIL
At our firm, we've figured out a way to respond to client emails within a few minutes despite the substantial volume (one email per second, sometimes more). We noticed that our process suited our schedules, but not necessarily our clients' needs. If one person left the office or left their inbox temporarily unattended, emails would stack up quickly. So we replaced our email system with a ticketing system, which streamlines the queue. A team of people is constantly working through that queue, so no matter how many messages come in, we respond right away.
A quick response may seem like a small gesture. But over time, these consistent efforts show your clients you respect their time and helping them is your top priority.
Consider possible changes in these areas:
- Pricing model. How can you replace the hourly pricing rate to avoid unexpected surprises?
- Organizational structure. Do you have staffers dedicated to making sure your clients are happy?
- Are you updating your clients regularly without pestering them?
Creating a stellar client experience doesn't have to be a big ordeal. Sure, grand gestures are nice, but your clients care more about the substantive, consistent support that makes their lives easier. Your attorneys might have the best intentions, but if your firm lacks the proper systems, you can't deliver the best experience for your clients.
Jeff Unger is the founder of eMinutes (www.eminutes.com), a law firm focusing on the formation and maintenance of LLCs and corporations, and currently handles the corporate minutes for nearly 20,000 clients. Jeff is also a four-time Inc. 5000 honoree.