Important Signals To Clients: Processes

Last month we discussed physical evidence in our series on non-legal capabilities important to clients.

We now turn to processes – the way we connect with clients and how they experience us.

In some sophisticated lawyer – client relationships (say, in defendant PI and transactional banking) the client actually defines their minimum acceptable processes as a condition of doing business. They do this because they have most of the power, and because tightly managed processes have a strong impact on their P&L. But these special client-driven relationships are a minority.

For everyone else, and not too long ago, processes were about simple management of expectations through written and verbal communications. While these remain important, we now have a generation of clients who not only think web-based purchasing is normal, but actually prefer to purchase without speaking with anyone.

For law firms, while that is an opportunity (which some are grabbing with both hands) it creates obvious challenges for providing properly scoped work in all but quite simple matters. For this style of delivery, the processes – that is, ease of website use, pricing and scoping clarity, delivery / payment arrangements, refund policy, and bail out steps for when better explanation simply can’t be avoided – are all just as important in the connection as the substantive legal advice.

It is now normal to connect with clients through multiple channels – call centres, online chat rooms, Skype, social network mail, and of course the more traditional forms. But if you are going to nominate these channels, you’d better have the processes around them sorted – so your clients aren’t lost in space.

When I look at the national Thought Technology Awards (as a judge), the sheer volume of hard investment firms are sinking into innovative service infrastructure and delivery channels is impossible to ignore.

Yet as much as things change, they also remain the same. Whether delivery is automated / innovative, face to face, or on the phone, all clients are looking for the process essentials. These are: easy to do business with, clarity, and a road map so that there are no surprises regarding service and total price. And of course, where humans are involved, courtesy and respect ought to be a given as well.

Clients who have grown up with tightly-managed online purchasing (with equally tightly managed delivery arrangements) simply won’t tolerate old fashioned service notions – i.e., sorry – that wasn’t included; sorry – that’ll cost more; sorry- we didn’t say beforehand, but we now want all the money today… and so on.

Another highly visible offshoot of web based delivery and of this generational change is a market shift to both unconditional fixed pricing (where lawyers and clients risk share) and tightly scoped fixed pricing for fixed stages (including litigation).

All firms need to keep a very close eye on what clients now see as normal processes, and on emerging standards of service delivery. If you don’t, it doesn’t matter how good a lawyer you are, you won’t have any clients.

Published: Queensland Law Society – Proctor, October 2015 p.56

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