Why Law Firms Need Client Journey Mapping

client-experienceI was recently reading a book on the history of physics when the author made a statement that I thought applied perfectly to law firms today: It seems that the greatest scientific advancements come not when our experiments prove our theories even more accurate, but when we find ourselves facing a situation where the experiment no longer coincides with the theory.

In an industry where the competition for legal work has intensified, clients’ legal budgets have remained flat or decreased, and procurement’s prominence is on the rise, law firms can no longer rely on competitive tactics that accentuate capabilities, expertise, and reputation above all else. Today, differentiating the client experience becomes a critical component of a law firm’s success.

If you’re still reading this, you’re either a managing partner or a senior administrator in a firm, and I’m preaching to the choir—or you’re a lawyer who agrees with my opening statement about the current competitive landscape but may be wondering whether “differentiating the client experience” is simply the newest marketing-speak to reach the world of law firms. It’s true that the phrasing is a recent addition to the legal marketing lexicon, but the focus on a client’s experience as a way to stand apart from the competition is anything but new.

In 1997, Robert Woodruff, a University of Tennessee professor of marketing, and a customer value and satisfaction theories expert, wrote that many organizations, “driven by more demanding clients, global competition, and slow-growth economies and industries,” were searching “for new ways to achieve and retain a competitive advantage.” He described how past attempts focused internally, and included bringing in new management; reengineering product or service processes to gain efficiency; restructuring; merging; and downsizing.

 

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Once these techniques were exhausted, he predicted that “the next major source for competitive advantage likely will come from more outward orientation toward clients, as indicated by the many calls for organizations to compete on superior client value delivery.” According to McKinsey companies that have transformed themselves to focus on the client journey across the organization have enjoyed a 20% improvement in client satisfaction, a 15-20% decrease in cost of serving their clients, a 20-30% increase in employee engagement, and, perhaps most convincingly, a 10-15% increase in revenue growth.

Lawyers, I would argue, are keenly focused on delivering the best legal services and helping their clients achieve the best results possible. But that focus doesn’t always result in the best experience for our clients. Why? One reason is that the client’s definition of success, value, and client service is often broader than the law firm definition. The delivery of legal services is a central component to the experience, but it is far from the only one.

Our work interviewing clients on behalf of law firms confirms that clients define the experience more expansively. For them, it includes every interaction with a firm, including dealing with lawyers, paralegals, assistants, receptionists, IT, and accounting, and even third-party providers, such as court reporters, whether in-person, by phone, or electronically. It includes every excellent result and every overstaffed phone call. Every succinct email explanation and every blown budget estimate.

Clients don’t experience all of this in a vacuum. Consciously or not, they are comparing it to every other matter that they’ve worked on with any other firm. It doesn’t stop there. When it comes to client experiences, law firms aren’t just competing against other legal service providers; they are competing against all experiences that shape the expectations of their clients. Remember when Google first became popular, and soon thereafter, people started asking for databases with “Google-like” search capabilities? The same principle applies here. Every new app or process improvement that makes other aspects of one’s personal and professional life easier puts pressure on a law firm to improve the overall experience for their clients. Think of it this way: Is your firm’s client service as good as Amazon’s?

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Simply put, most law firms can’t continue to compete purely on the basis of capabilities, expertise, reputation, and results. There are hundreds of firms with competence, expertise, specialization, and—most importantly—capacity. Take a moment to think of any matter your firm is currently handling. If you can’t immediately think of five other firms that could handle the legal aspects of the matter just as effectively, you’re either not thinking hard enough, or you have a very exalted position in the marketplace for that kind of work. More likely, it’s the former.

 

To complicate the situation further, every law firm is focused on providing an expanded set of services to their current clients. Articles with techniques for cross-selling abound. (See my partner Aric Press’s thoughtful reply to cross-selling initiatives: http://berneropress.com/client-satisfaction/are-you-selling-or-helping/ ). Firms that have developed strategies around expanding current client relationships need to improve not only individual matter–level experiences, but experiences for those clients that need more than one type of work from your firm. Can you say with confidence that those experiences are consistent for your clients across practices, industries, and geographies?

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While some firms are continuing to use the tools of merging, downsizing, and restructuring to help them compete more effectively, most have already run through those options and find themselves continuing to compete as intensively, if not more so—often on price, as clients now regularly use the selection process as a way to contain legal budgets. As a result, the shift toward an outward focus on the client experience as a way to distinguish the firm, develop loyalty, and counteract price erosion is taking hold.

 

Forward-looking firms are embracing this outward focusing by engaging consultants to conduct client interviews and by gathering informal feedback through managing partner or practice head client visits, as well as employing scorecards, external quantitative surveys, and post-transactional and litigation reviews. Each of these tools can be powerful in and of themselves, and I encourage all firms to consider using them. But none of these focus purely on the client experience. Instead, they focus on the law firm’s performance in assisting their clients.

 

The best way to truly improve the client experience is to use a technique that forces you to experience your firm’s services from the client’s point of view. One such technique, known as client journey mapping, has been used successfully by corporations across industries and around the world. Consumer product and B2C organizations such as Amazon, Apple, and Disney, as well as B2B and consulting firms such as IBM and McKinsey, have focused on the client journey as a way of improving and distinguishing the client experience.

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The definition of a client journey map is a visual representation of the steps and perceptions that a specific client goes through over a period of time to accomplish a specific goal that may include some interactions with your organization. The map helps identify how the client views an organization by putting interactions in the context of the client’s broader goals, objectives, and activities.

Client journey mapping is a very effective tool to view the client experience at a granular level because it allows for more precise diagnosis, invites more specific reengineering that may include areas not normally addressed with other diagnostic tools, and helps identify the stages at which problems surface, as well as the stages of origination. It also helps identify the bright spots—all the places where the firm is performing well—and should be replicated elsewhere.

It is an incredibly effective tool to help firms improve the experience across clients with similar issues or attributes by using a “persona” or a composite client that represents a group of like clients.

At the heart of it, client journey mapping will be more successful if you focus not only on what you do, but how you think as an organization. Mapping, done correctly, can be a powerful first step in creating a client-centric culture that delivers differentiated client experiences. At Bernero & Press, we have created a whiteboard animation to introduce you to the basic process of client journey mapping. In subsequent posts, we will discuss specific parts of the mapping process and different ways in which mapping can be used to a firm’s advantage.

The process may appear daunting at first, and this may seem like the latest marketing craze, but the concept behind it is really simple: The better a law firm understands the client’s journey, the better positioned that firm will be to help the client in a more complete and sophisticated manner, thereby distinguishing itself from other firms that focus predominantly on the legal issues. Better client experiences lead to higher satisfaction and the holy grail of client loyalty. That’s good for the client, the lawyer, and—let’s not kid ourselves—the bottom line.

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