As the competition for legal work increases between traditional players and diversifies due to alternative service providers, client loyalty continues to be a significant focus for law firms. Some may argue that in the current buyer's market, it is more important than ever. It directly correlates to value and provides one surefire way to measure client satisfaction.
An avid dog lover, I celebrate the birthdays of my two dogs each year. My oldest recently turned seven. This occasion made me think about law firms, their clients, loyalty and what they can learn from dogs. How many "7-year-old" clients do law firms have? Or, if you follow the notion that one human year equals seven dog years, how many "49-year-old" clients do law firms have? Given the evolving nature of the legal landscape, my guess would be not many.
The question then becomes how do law firms who have long-term clients engender loyalty? How do they grow and maintain relationships with these clients through good and bad times, as the company grows, changes its business strategy or faces financial difficulties? How do they get past the mindset of "we've always done it this way with them; we don't need to do anything more" to recognizing and acting upon the need for change by delivering proactive legal and business advice?
Unlike dogs — or at least unlike mine — clients don't have to stay with a law firm; they have a choice. They can run away and find a better home — one where they are better treated, one that has a better yard and one that serves better food. In other words, they can go to a law firm that provides greater value (through avenues such as innovative pricing, project management, differentiated service offerings and process improvement) and superb client service.
Like my relationship with my dogs, a client's relationship with its law firms should be mutually beneficial. While dogs can't talk, clients can. We can actually ask clients what's on their minds. I can't tell you how many times I've wished I could ask my dogs what they were thinking. However, too many firms are afraid to ask clients that question. In order for law firms to keep loyal clients, they need to communicate. Ask clients questions such as:
- What is top of mind?
- What are you most worried about?
- What are you most excited about?
- How can you be better served?
Engage them in an open dialogue that goes beyond legal services. Gather feedback and implement what is learned. Do this on a continual basis. If you do, there is a good chance you will see a lot of clients wagging their tails. And if you don't, there are plenty of firms out there who are ready to lure them away with a treat and a promise of a better home.
Ashley Tenney is corporate practice manager at Dentons in Atlanta.