It’s about the journey, not just the destination

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9 September 2013

Goldhill: the customer journey can be precarious

Posted by Simon Goldhill of Legal Futures Associate Simon Goldhill Consultancy

Part of my holiday reading involved revisiting some of the leading texts on quality service – how to understand it, achieve it and measure it. Oddly enough, there wasn’t much that emanated from the UK legal market.

What does ‘the customer journey’ mean to your average lawyer? I’d like to think that most, if pressed, wouldn’t simply say that it’s how the client manages to get to his office for a meeting. But I suspect that very few have more than a passing acquaintance with the concepts and practices that have been proven to succeed in a service environment.

Whether you view them as clients, consumers or customers is irrelevant. The business of law is to sell professional services. Those buying them do not judge only the absolute quality of the end product – the right, the best, the most successful advice and assistance. Before they get to that there is a great deal of front-end and on-going dealings between the law firm and its client that is as important to the relationship for not just that particular matter, but also future business.

All law firms must, of course, ensure that they get the end product right. Beyond the client-care letter and whatever system of updates and reviews its processes and workflows require, I suspect that most firms give rather less thought to what goes on before, how that might be improved and what effect that might have.

One of the consequences of the Legal Services Act 2007 has been a massive increase in the amount of academic research undertaken into the UK legal sector. The Legal Services Board and its consumer panel have, in particular, produced a swathe of reports over the past year focused on the engagement between lawyers and consumers who have legal needs. All of this evidence points to just how reluctant consumers are when reaching for a lawyer.

Now some of this is down to long-term structural issues. Much, however, is simply because, culturally, lawyers rarely focus on that bit of what they do that comes before the end product. Vital aspects of the customer journey are often either glossed over or simply misunderstood, in particular through the sales process and through service delivery itself.

For brevity, I’m just going to focus on the sales journey. What steps do potential customers go through before and in order to make the decision to instruct a firm? How many firms truly analyse, from a consumer’s perspective, the processes and decisions that they will go through between:

  • deciding that they have an issue which could benefit from some professional assistance;
  • deciding that a law firm might be the appropriate place to go to for the assistance;
  • deciding which law firm(s) to approach;
  • making initial contact and obtaining an initial response;
  • establishing the parameters and likely cost of obtaining legal assistance; and
  • deciding to instruct

The research shows just how precarious this journey is for a law firm, but we can be our own worst enemy. I read recently about a marketing consultant booked to talk at a local Law Society’s personal injury conference. In the days before, he had rung each of the 30+ firms who sent delegates and outlined a cast-iron certainty of a claim. Not only did he fail to receive a single response from any receptionist, paralegal or solicitor he talked to that made him feel like he (or even his claim) was valued, but a number of those who commented online thought that served him right for wasting firms’ valuable time with spurious claims!

In the brave new world of the liberalised legal market, it is no longer good enough for law firms to focus on their end product. Being the best conveyancer/litigator/employment advisor is not going to do you any good if work doesn’t get to you. And even if it does, ignoring the effect of the service experience and customer journey risks losing the opportunity of repeat business and recommendations.

Volume and commoditisation by itself is actually not the threat. ‘Pile it high and sell it cheap’ law can create initial market share, but in the long run may not prove to be sustainable. The key to thriving in this market is to introduce quality service; and that is so both for volume or bespoke.

There are examples of the right sort of approach starting to emerge. DBS Law, a medium-sized full service firm based in Birmingham, recently became the first legal services provider to be awarded the Cabinet Office’s customer service excellence standard. This was the result of five years of hard work, interestingly based on the findings of a group of US-based post-graduate students who had been invited in to examine the business and recommend changes.

Its CEO, Rob Bhol, has explained the model in some detail. One key development was the creation of a call centre to deal with all new enquiries. He staffs it with well-paid and highly trained paralegals chosen for their drive and enthusiasm, strong emotional intelligence and empathy. That is the starting point for the right sort of customer journey.

The results are hugely impressive. All clients are surveyed by an independent organisation after each completed matter. Satisfaction levels are over 90%. Some 84% of their clients say that they would recommend DBS to a friend.

And for those who say that this isn’t the way to do business, in the past five years turnover has increased by 170%.

As the authors of the seminal work Delivering Service Quality say: “Service leaders see service quality as… integral to the organisation’s future… They believe fundamentally that superior service is a winning strategy, a profit strategy.”

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