While Marketing & BD teams see the internal benefits of client listening, many firms remain reluctant to embrace a formal client listening programme. Perhaps this is because – ironically – the client perspective is missing from the debate? While fee-earners continue to argue for the status quo because "I know my clients", the truth maybe that they only know what they want to know about their clients. Forward-looking firms are looking at this differently and asking 'what do our clients want us to know'? Building on this, the next step becomes 'how do we show our clients that our firm is listening'?
How do you show your clients that your firm is listening? I’ve been asking this question more this week, after noticing several LinkedIn posts observing that:
- Only around half of law firms have a formal client listening programme
- Firms with strong client listening win more work from new and existing clients
This got me wondering how clients feel about this approach to client listening.
The posts I’ve seen have focused on the benefits to the firm of listening, and the internal barriers to listening. The client perspective has been missing.
Individual lawyers often reassure people that “I know my clients” while BD and Marketing teams get frustrated that this insight is out of reach in people’s heads.
Do your clients feel heard?
But for client-centric firms - which according to their websites is most firms - surely how well clients are understood should be judged by the clients themselves? Otherwise we’re marking our own homework!
This means not just listening to understand their legal issue, but also listening to understand their wider needs and expectations.
We work with experts like Claire Rason and Anna Lake
who have spoken to 100’s of clients on behalf of law firms. They regularly report on how valuable clients find the conversation. They appreciate the opportunity to stand back, look at their experiences and expectations and share their view on the relationship. Talking to someone who’s not also delivering the work, creates the distance for them to be more open with their feedback.
These insights about what firms are doing well, how they could strengthen the relationship and how the firm is positioned to meet future priorities are pure gold. Yet many firms still believe clients are too busy and don’t want to be asked for feedback.
FOFO - the fear of finding out
This challenge led Scott Simmons
to wonder if fear was the problem. Lawyers are often perfectionists who strive for excellence, and they worry that asking for feedback might open the door to negative comments.
Claire Rason coined this the fear of finding out. I’ve observed something similar, that feedback can feel like a no-win situation for individual lawyers.
They feel they are doing the best job they can for the client, so glowing praise is what they would expect. So the down side of potential negative feedback outweighs the upside of new testimonials and the opportunity to learn.
This fear of negative feedback could be part of it. Recent research in the US by AMA and Wicker Park Group revealed that partner resistance to participation (41%) was the number 1 challenge with getting a client listening programme going. 38% said that it was not a priority of firm leadership (38%) and 35% said they had a lack of staff or resources (which demonstrates that understanding client experiences and expectations is not a priority for leadership).
While I don’t have the numbers, I imagine that most of these same firms had strategic priorities around winning new clients and growing revenue from existing clients. Which makes me wonder where the intel to achieve those goals will come from…
Assumptions are the termites of relationships - Henry Winkler
Looking at these challenges another way, I think that the challenge could be blindspots rather than fear. The assumption that you know what clients want, and that they “always say the same thing when asked”, can lead people to believing that gathering more feedback is a waste of time.
But of course client needs, expectations and experiences are not static - even when they’re a long-standing client of the firm. This became startlingly clear in March 2020 when client research from just a couple of months earlier was helpless to explain how client expectations were evolving as we all went into lockdown.
To avoid getting left behind, firms deployed their BD teams to call clients and prospects and provide regular feedback to the Board. Board’s valued having their finger on the pulse, and clients valued having additional and different conversations with the firm.
But once the dust settled on hybrid working (has it settled?) many firms went back to their old passive ways of client listening. This wasn’t a good outcome from their clients.
Common sense is not always common practice
I ran a workshop recently, where I shared the results of some research that MyCustomerLens ran a couple of years ago. It highlighted that communication (specifically feeling informed) was a significant value driver for clients. Yet very few firms said that they were striving to be above average for communication - and it showed, with those same clients being scathing about the quality of comms they receive.
One of the Managing Partners in my session then revealed that they have a screensaver in the office that reminds lawyers that 90% of complaints are related to communications and therefore they should seek to over-deliver.
have recently reported a similar blindspot, discovering that slow response time is by far the biggest ‘pain point’ homebuyers have when dealing with conveyancers.
Richard W Smith
commented on the results “We've been saying it for years, but the evidence is in. Lack of responsiveness from a lawyer annoys clients way more than the cost of that lawyer!”
The benefits of listening differently
So the client benefits of listening differently are clear. Better communications and better responsiveness will reduce their frustrations, increase their trust in the process and hence strengthen their relationship with the firm.
The firms that listen and respond - rather than assuming all is fine because they do communicate and respond - will gain a competitive advantage.
Forward-looking firms are already seeing those benefits. Melissa Davis
posted about the conversations at the recent International Bar Association conference in Paris. Anecdotal evidence highlighted that:
- Law firms that have a formal client listening programme win a higher proportion of client legal spend
- Law firms that actively listen to their clients have a much better client retention rate.
For marketing teams, the case can be even simpler. As Scott Simmons put it “client feedback is the best form of marketing”.
Who wouldn’t want more of that?!