Is alternative billing enough to differentiate your law firm in this competitive business market?

Posted by on Oct 26, 2009 in Best Practices, Clients | 4 Comments

BoxSmallWord is that in this economy law firm clients are willing to walk across the street just to get better value. Go figure. Value sells. Many law firms have begun competing on price—adopting alternative billing structures. I can’t help but wonder if law firms aren’t falling into the value box defined by their competitors instead of their clients? Is there more to value than price?

What if law firms focused their energies on creating loyal clients, the kind that love you, want to have legal questions just so they can be near you, and that readily refer your services to others?

What would that look like?  It is this humble author’s opinion that law firms that can consistently deliver on the generic category benefits—those things that essentially define legal services, the stuff every client expects from their law firm but some law firms are clueless about—better than the competition have a real opportunity to differentiate themselves.

Generic Category Benefits?

Generic category benefits of a coffee shop: things that people expect from a coffee shop:

  • A convenient location
  • Open early AM
  • Cups, plates, stirrers
  • Coffee
  • Sugar, creamer
  • A place to sit, maybe a table
  • A server or cashier
  • Pastries or breakfast

Starbucks stands out as a leader in consistently providing the generic category benefits of a coffee shop exceptionally well and that’s why we love Starbucks. We can trust Starbucks to deliver, and we love that!

  • Convenient locations in EVERY CITY and even some towns
  • Consistent and reliable hours
  • Inviting surroundings: warm or cool, clean and welcoming.
  • Attractive cups distinguished with poems and art
  • Soft seating, work tables, take out efficiency
  • Friendly Baristas; some with refreshing personality that delivers that “glad you are here” attitude
  • Consistently outstanding coffee; lots of tasty varieties and more
  • Fresh pastry, healthy choices; we like that
  • Wifi, custom music CD’s, free music downloads to enjoy while we’re lounging and sipping coffee
  • 100 other items you really don’t need but make it interesting to browse while you’re waiting for your coffee
  • A local flair, art, charities, special events
  • A commitment to the environment
  • and etc….

I don’t know about you, but when I have a Starbucks I feel like I’m a member of a special club –a club that treats me right.  If I happen to have a errant experience I know who to speak to:  if I tell someone in management, or send out a Tweet, they will make it right and that gives me comfort; I trust Starbucks. There are many choices in coffee shops, but Starbucks sets the bar.

There are many choices in law firms. Which one sets the bar? Is it yours?

Generic category benefits of a law firm: things that people expect to receive from a law firm.

  • Offices
  • Conference room(s)
  • Meetings
  • Communications: telephone, email, fax
  • Competent, ethical and confidential counsel.
  • Bills
  • Documents
  • Filing documents
  • Court appearances
  • Ethical and confidential management of fiduciary accounts
  • Communications: educational seminars, articles, etc.

What clients really want.

An anecdotal poll of consultants and law firm professionals who perform client satisfaction interviews reported these top 10 client service issues (complaints).  (Note: Conversely many clients also reported that they were completely satisfied with their legal representation and that they had no complaints.)

  • #10 Not understanding my industry/business
  • #9 The surprise bill
  • #8 Inaccessibility; the age of Blackberries
  • #7 Over-lawyering
  • #6 Missed deadlines
  • #5 Not discussing strategy and recommendations
  • #4 Not being informed when the responsible attorney is away: who can the client call in their absence
  • #3 Not keeping client informed
  • #2 Invoices for time or work not previously discussed with the client
  • #1 Not returning phone calls

Of these top 10 complaints how many are generic category benefits? All of them!

If you can get your law firm – lawyers, staff and other professionals to focus on consistently delivering generic category benefits you could have loyal clients who love you, wouldn’t think of leaving you for another firm and best of all….refer you to others. Simple, right? Not! If it were simple everyone would do it.

What are those extra special touches within the generic category benefits that you offer you clients and that keep them loving you? How can you be the Starbucks of legal services? The formula is as unique as your firm AND your clients. But if you aren’t working on it, you may want to get started.

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4 Comments

  1. Russell Lawson
    October 27, 2009

    Jayne –

    Sooo right! Law firms should not wait for the competition to define the acceptable alternative arrangements nor until the ACC or some other group flogs them into action. Discerning what the client desires is even more important in maintaining and enhancing the relationship than identifying what the client needs in legal representation. Desires are emotionally powerful factors, these trump even the rational when cognitive dissonance occurs (“I like my lawyer who just lost my case.”) and facilitate a unique set of value differentiators that CAN’T be competed against with economic schema.

    Reply
  2. Nancy Myrland, Myrland Marketing
    October 27, 2009

    Jayne, great post, and critically important to discuss given the changing landscape of business and law. A few weeks ago, I attended a 3-day conference where we focused on mapping out literally every step in the client communication process that occurs when someone does business with us, or our clients, or even inquires how to do business with our clients.

    Every firm can do exactly what you suggest, and that is to think of how to wow the client at every point of the relationship, to think of those “extra special touches” as you called them, in order to provide an outstanding, consistent, positive experience each and every time they come in contact with a firm. Put it in writing, teach it to everyone in the firm, then implement it to become a natural part of the flow of how we do business.

    Great thoughts and conversation Jayne!

    Reply
  3. virtualmarketingofficer
    October 27, 2009

    Thanks for your comments Nancy and Russell,

    You know it just isn’t always possible to get everyone on board. Different agendas block the team spirit. But even beyond that crucial issue, I don’t see firms trying to training staff to think and act like a distinguishable brand and like a team as Starbucks does. ( I do know one firm that is working at it but its just not easy. In this case the managing partner is a leader and a hero and that’s why they may succeed. I know that when I walked into their reception area I really felt the love!)

    Leadership starts at the top. I love the story about Michael Eisner when he stooped down to pick up a piece of litter at the Orlando Disney World – even when he thought no one was looking! The individual spirit is wonderful but to succeed law firms need, I believe, to act like a team and believe in a brand of excellent service.

    I don’t see plaques in the reception areas recognizing employees for great service like the employee of the month thing. Do law firms think that is too crass? Too Walmartish? Rewarding exceptional service employees with a primo parking spot for a month or gas card, movie tickets, recognizing individuals – beyond the end of the year raise or good review – might not be a bad idea. I wonder if anyone reading this blog has tried that or seen that in action in a law firm?

    Reply
  4. Amazon: The Disney of Delivery
    April 21, 2010

    […] Amazon isn’t instant gratification; it’s better. Schlepping to a store and buying something that I immediately take home and use isn’t nearly as gratifying as shopping (with my unknown friends who review products and give objective advice) and getting that package in the mail a day or two later. For a few dollars more per year I sign up for Prime Shipping on Amazon, which means I get most items virtually overnight or second day delivery. Whether or not they beat their deadlines it always feels like it. It’s VIP treatment and it works. (Shouldn’t your law firm be doing this?) […]

    Reply

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