Last year digital transformation focused on remote working. It was about delivering the same services in new ways.
In most cases, it was about defending previous levels of efficiency and competitiveness within the new normal. However, forward-looking firms aren’t stopping there. 2021 is about future-proofing their firm to improve competitiveness.
Disrupting Status Quo
There’s no doubt that the pandemic, and specifically remote working, has disrupted both client needs and expectations and also how firms deliver their services. With offices closed, client relationships transformed from a managed blend of in-person and digital contacts to digital-only.
But as firms return to the office, the concept of client experience has changed forever. Standing still won’t deliver a stand-out experience. The competitive landscape has shifted, as evidenced by the recent LPM Frontiers Report: Legal IT Landscapes 2021
. Both firms and clients are looking at client experience differently.
The ‘inside-out’ view
The pandemic has shifted how firms think about tech. It’s brought new tech to the table, or at least accelerated projects already in motion. Alison Lobb, Managing Partner at Morecrofts, said in the report: “We’re looking at tech from a client-facing perspective – how can we make it easy for our clients to interact with us?” “Over the course of the pandemic people have learned more about technology and our clients have become accustomed to dealing with us remotely.”
While embracing tech is now non-negotiable, it’s important to remember it’s just a means to an end. For firms looking to improve competitiveness, that end goal is consistent and compelling client experiences. As Karen Edwards, Director and Head of Business Support at Hedges Law explained “Firms should be thinking about how to make the client experience better.”
The ‘outside-in’ view
The pandemic has also shifted client expectations. ‘Good client experience’ is a moving target, and over the last 12 months it has taken off. Significantly for professional services firms, businesses shaping B2C expectations are dragging B2B with them.
Clients are consumers too, and when all experiences are being delivered digitally, the contrast between the best and the rest is easy to see. As Edward O’Rourke, CEO at Ashtons Legal, explained “There has been a steady progression in the way clients’ expectations have changed in line with consumer behaviour. They want a seamless experience and often one filled with data-rich insights.”
Positive differentiation, once driven by welcoming offices and personal client relationships, has been undermined. Responsiveness, collaboration, approachability and even expertise have all been re-assessed by clients. Florence Brocklesby, Principal at Bellevue Law, has seen a paradigm shift in client behaviour. “The pandemic has played a part in changing what clients expect from a law firm. It doesn’t matter whether they’re instructing a big firm in the city or a virtual firm, their experience as a client will have been very similar over the course of the pandemic.” Karen Edwards had a similar view “Clients expect lawyers to know and be able to offer the best advice – so it’s everything else your firm does that makes a difference and makes you stand out above the rest.”
Future-proofing your competitiveness
So how do firms stay on top of what makes a difference to their clients? How do they make evidence-based decisions about how they will stand out above the rest?
Being able to listen and respond to change quickly is driving competitive advantage across the sector. Future-proof agility comes from embracing automation, data analytics and collaboration.
Automation is about more than improving efficiency and reducing costly manual processes – important though that is. Automation also unleashes scale. It unleashes the ability to do things for many clients that could previously only be done for a few.
For knowledge-intensive law firms, this includes adopting AI and specifically Natural Language Processing (NLP). For example, in the blink of an eye, hundreds of client comments can be analysed in a rigorous and consistent way. NLP can discover what they’re talking about, how that is making them feel and why it’s driving behaviour.
This automation frees up Client Care and BD/Marketing teams to focus on using the actionable insights to drive competitive advantage. Without the delays and frustrations of manually compiling and analysing spreadsheets of raw data, teams are freed up to make faster decisions.
“There’s a greater willingness to embrace automation and workflow streamlining along with greater use of digital tools and online processes.”
David Fazakerley, legal CIO CTS
The secret to creating actionable insights from data analysis is having a single source of truth. “Garbage in, garbage-out” is a familiar cry from those responsible for data integrity. But a bigger problem for firms is blind spots. Firms create blind spots when client data isn’t asked for because “it’s not the right time” or when lawyers don’t want anyone else talking to their clients. Blind spots also occur when client intelligence gets stuck in a different system, notebook or email inbox.
In the recent MyCustomerLens ‘future of client listening’ research
, firms identified a “holistic” approach as crucial to future competitiveness. Similarly, ‘unified communications’ was identified as a competitiveness winner in the Legal IT landscape report.
“we’re putting clients at the centre of all data we capture.”
Edward O’Rourke, CEO at Ashtons Legal
Extending the concept of a single source of truth, collaboration creates a shared platform for innovation. Collaboration doesn’t just happen amongst fee-earners. It comes from embracing the views of the wider teams that crate and support delivery processes. It also comes from being able to collaborate with clients as a group, not just the client receiving the service. Competitive advantage is being driven by the ability to make fast and informed decisions, and the foundation of this advantage is the agility that comes from decision-makers being able to see the full picture.
“We’re trying to harness any opportunity to see how we can improve our service for the client’s benefit, which will also then benefit us as a business.”
Karen Edwards, director and head of business support, Hedges Law
Getting started – future-proof your firm to compete on experience
- Look for ways to automate the process of collecting and analysing data about the experience of your clients. For example, AI can dramatically improve the cost, speed and consistency of text analysis, bring the voice of the customer to life
- Look for ways to aggregate your client experience data. This includes formal interviews/surveys, informal client conversations and the perspectives of employees involved in service delivery
- With your finger on the pulse (automated data capture) and everyone on the same page (aggregated insights), encourage your employees to collaborate with each other and clients to discover new ways to deliver stand-out experiences.