It's All About the Client Perspective
By Kevin McMurdo
In professional services, the success of any business strategy depends on positive relationships with clients, colleagues and associates, both inside and outside the firm. We know this. We also know that referrals are the best source of new and sustaining work. Strategic growth, then, is an inductive process spurred by quality work and service that builds reputation and referrals.
Imagine a firm strategy truly centered on clients — key clients, new clients, growing clients, industry-leading clients. Think of a strategy that, above all else, encourages, rewards and expects partners and associates to actively and consistently reach out to their clients to enhance relationships and uncover new opportunities. A strategy that places the client perspective above all else. Working closely with the Wicker Park Group for the past 18 months, I have come to appreciate the adage “one size fits one.” To quote Nat Slavin in a recent Wicker Park blog posting, “It may be true that data drives decisions, but the essential value of Big Data is that it can be the starting point for a conversation.” I couldn’t agree more.
A true client-centered strategy would encourage client conversations, and the knowledge obtained from those conversations would form the centerpiece of a firm’s growth strategy.
Granted, this approach does not offer the level of control and predictability that most firms seek when developing strategy. It is client-centered, not lawyer-centered. Most firms, in my experience, build their strategies around themselves: their experience, expertise and relationships. They acknowledge the value of the client perspective and try to meet with clients in some organized manner, but the final strategy more often reflects what the lawyers want and are willing to do and less of what clients might need or suggest.
A true client-centered strategy would begin by inviting clients to become co-authors, if you will, of the strategic plan — fully integrated into the firm’s strategic and goal-setting processes. Clients would serve as advisors to the firm in new and unexpected ways that would not only enhance relationships, but uncover new market needs, niches and opportunities.
A number of years ago I had the good fortune of interviewing Bruce Nordstrom for a corporate video. The company, as most of us know, is known for its superior client service. Nordstrom explained that company strategy — the introduction of new lines of clothing, for example — relied on customers for direction and affirmation. Company success only came with a “superior customer experience.”
The strategic approach suggested here would be new for most firms only in the amount of emphasis placed on the value of the client perspective. It likely would require a greater investment of both time and money to help lawyers and staff improve their communication, client service and professional skills to create the superior customer experience mentioned above.
My good friend and former colleague, Mark Usellis, often reminded me that the “what” of anything is only as important as the “so what” that follows.
So, what might a client-centered strategy mean in actionable terms? With firm leadership endorsement and active support, I would suggest the following:
- Developing and launching a comprehensive client communication strategy, including client advisory groups centered on regular formal and informal client conversations (e.g., in-person meetings, phone calls, satisfaction surveys);
- Training lawyers and staff on effective communications and service delivery, emphasizing active listening skills;
- Using both in-person and digital communication channels (e.g., brown bag seminars, practice group retreats, e-learning strategies) to challenge lawyers and staff to better learn firm capabilities and expertise;
- Designing a true follow-up procedure, anticipating the potential need to fundamentally change or adapt service delivery processes and behaviors to client needs; and
- Rewarding and recognizing with enthusiasm.
A true client-centered strategy should be simple to understand, easy to integrate into broader strategic initiatives and offer significant rewards in return.
Kevin McMurdo is a lifelong teacher whose 40+ years of experience include positions as a college communications and theater instructor, business development leader with international law and accounting firms, and as an independent consultant. He has been a member of the Oregon Bar since 1986. An independent consultant since January 2014, Kevin helps law firm clients improve their business development success through sales presentations and training and workshops at firm retreats and through individual coaching. A member of LMA since 1987, Kevin served as president in 1992, was elected to the LMA Hall of Fame in 2010 and was inducted into the College of Law Practice Management in 2015.